When Katarina Marks was in junior high, her family moved from Arizona to Pagosa Springs, Colorado and the only fall sports for girls in her new school were volleyball or cross-country.
“I wasn’t very good at volleyball,” says Marks, “And in elementary school, I always kind of liked running in races.”
If you look at Marks now, you might think that she was a natural at running, but getting used to a new sport, a new school, and altitude was difficult.
“I definitely suffered,” Marks remembers. “I wasn’t very good and I almost quit because it was so tough. The coach was tough too. We would do these long runs, and I thought, what are these people doing?”
Cross-country may have been tough, but Marks is tougher. Last year, Marks won her 25-29 age group at XTERRA Beaver Creek and was second at XTERRA Oak Mountain and XTERRA Lory. At the 2017 XTERRA Pan Am National Championship, Marks finished second in her age group behind Alexa Turzian and at the XTERRA World Championship, Marks was second in her age group just behind Carolina Nieva, who now races as an elite athlete and won XTERRA Uruguay in May.
“I’m pretty competitive,” said Marks, which is a significant understatement. “During that first cross-country season in Colorado, I told myself to be tough and stick it out. All of a sudden, I don’t know what happened, but I started having fun. Then I thought about track in the spring and I knew I wanted to be a lot better.”
Marks ran a lot of miles in the offseason between cross-country and track, where she sometimes dropped a minute from her two-mile time. The next year, in eighth grade, Marks kept her chin up and her head down.
“By the time my freshman year in high school came along, I was like, all right, the top seven make varsity, so I’ll make the top seven.”
At that year’s time trial to determine the varsity team, Marks was fifth.
Her entry into triathlon followed a similar dogged approach to the one she took to running.
“I did a couple of sprint tris on the road. I did the training, but I didn’t grow up swimming so I didn’t know what I was doing. ‘All right, just get through the swim,’ I’d tell myself. Then on the bike I’d pass all these people, and the same thing happened on the run. I’d pass people who were walking and I’d think, ‘Why are they walking? This is a race.’”
Gradually, Marks began getting better in the water. She took a few swim lessons, listened to advice from coaches and was disciplined enough to stick to the drills prescribed to her.
“Yeah, I worked on what my coach told me to work on. She gave me about four things to work on for the swim. She broke down the parts of the stroke and gave me drills to improve my technique.”
Mountain biking was another story. Growing up biking in Pagosa Springs, duathlons and mountain bike races were popular when Marks was in high school.
“I did my first mountain bike race at 15 as part of a duathlon,” says Marks. “I told myself, just go out and have fun.”
Marks won the Pagosa Duathlon, which she’s been doing every year since. She’s won seven out of the ten times she has competed in it.
In 2017, Marks hired Lesley Paterson to coach her and take her to the next level.
“Last year at the beginning of the season I was enjoying XTERRA and I thought maybe I could be a pro someday, like in five years or so. But once I hired Lesley, I improved so quickly, that I began to think maybe I can turn pro even sooner.”
However, in her first race out of the gate this year at XTERRA Oak Mountain, Marks didn’t perform as she hoped she would have and finished third in her age group.
“I’m not going to lie. I was pretty disappointed and frustrated with how my body reacted,” said Marks after XTERRA Oak Mountain. “My mind was great, fitness is great but my body wasn't. I had a great swim, was in a great position on the bike right behind Deanna (McCurdy) for a few miles and I thought ‘This is perfect. This is going to be awesome,' then my body just wouldn't move.”
Marks had been suffering from issues related to iron deficiency, which can be a challenge for many endurance athletes, especially at altitude, because iron plays such a key role in getting oxygen to the muscles. Additionally, the range of iron/ferritin levels in the blood can range from 15-150 nanograms per milliliter and still be considered normal. Thirdly, even if you boost the amount of iron you take in, if the body doesn’t absorb it through the gut, you can’t get that iron where it needs to go.
After XTERRA Oak Mountain, Marks began taking a liquid source of iron with orange juice because vitamin C helps iron absorption. She also avoided caffeine and calcium within an hour of taking iron and added probiotics to her diet, which help the gut absorb nutrients.
At XTERRA Lory on June 16th, Marks won easily.
“This was definitely a bit of redemption, “ she admitted.
Next up for Marks is XTERRA Beaver Creek and then the XTERRA Pan Am National Championship.
“Ogden and Maui,” said Marks, “That’s what I’m going for.”
With Nieva out of the picture as an elite athlete, you might think that Marks is looking to win her age group as an amateur at the XTERRA World Championship, but that isn’t the case.
“Carolina is a pro now and I’m hoping to have my pro card by Maui too. That way, I can beat her.”