Klaire Rhodes admits she’s not quite used to referring to herself as an athlete.
She didn’t compete in track or cross country when she attended South High or in college. But the 24-year-old from Anchorage is now a national running champion.
Rhodes won the women’s division of the USATF Trail Marathon Championships on Saturday in Moab, Utah, outpacing her closest competitor by nearly seven minutes.
“You know, I didn’t really consider myself a very athletic person until like the past couple of years, so having that kind of title next to my name is definitely something I never would have thought would happen,” she said.
Rhodes’ time of 3 hours, 52 minutes, 30 seconds, also gave her the 17th-fastest finish overall in her first time competing in the race.
Rhodes said she dabbled in swimming and dance in high school and then attended college in Colorado. It wasn’t until she returned to Alaska to complete her degree that she started doing solo hikes and runs. That led to running with friends and entering competitions. She also started working at Skinny Raven Sports, which put her in the heart of Anchorage’s running community.
“It all just went super fast,” she said. “Now it’s such a big part of my life. And I can’t imagine it not being that way but sometimes I have to remind myself where I came from. Not that long ago, I remember telling myself, like, ‘Oh, I would never run a marathon, like that’s crazy.’ ”
She recently relocated to Reno, Nevada, for graduate school, but her quick transition to becoming a world-class runner started in the mountains of Alaska.
In 2021, she finished in the top 5 in the Crow Pass Crossing, Mount Marathon and Bird Ridge climb. This year, she won Bird Ridge and notched a fifth-place finish at Mount Marathon. When the race date for Crow Pass Crossing was moved, she was unable to run.
She said completing her first solo hike of Bird Ridge was a springboard into running community.
“I felt like I was the coolest person ever and I was so proud of myself,” she said. “I think I just got really addicted to that feeling and then, you know, the running community in Alaska is so great. And I started going to those races and being around those people. I just really found my community in Anchorage and in Alaska in that group. I knew that I just wanted to keep showing up.”
In Moab, Rhodes used all of her experience of running the difficult trail courses she’s raced in Alaska.
“The trail for this race was a lot more technical and adventurous than I expected,” she said. “I thought oh we’re in the desert. I knew it was varied ... but it was a lot more technical than I expected.”
She said she was able to create a gap from the pack on the first climb, but could still hear them close behind. But on the race’s back half, she managed to put more distance between her and her other competitors and cruised to the finish.
“I was super happy with the finish,” she said. “Moab was so beautiful. I’d never been there before.”
Rhodes wasn’t the only Alaskan in the hunt for a title. Tracen Knopp, another of the state’s top runners, finished runner-up in the men’s division. Knopp’s finishing time of 3:07.50 was second only to Brian Whitfield’s 3:04.28.
Knopp knew a good race could land him on the podium and initially started running into the top pack, where he stayed for the entire race.
“I kind of wanted to nail this one,” he said. “This was the best race of the season to me so I’m glad it went well.”
After winning the Turnagain Arm Trail race, his summer of racing in Alaska was mostly derailed by a case of bronchitis followed by a case of COVID.
“My summer wasn’t ideal as far as running and racing goes,” he said.
Knopp, who grew up in Palmer and raced for Colony High, echoed Rhodes’ enthusiasm for running in Moab.
“It’s pretty incredible,” he said. “The canyon walls you run around and you go up and over some mesas.”
Rhodes and Knopp, who are a couple, both moved to Reno in the fall and are attending graduate school. Knopp is studying atmospheric science while Rhodes is getting her masters in geography with a focus on climatology.
A number of other Alaskans had strong showings at the race. Palmer’s Chris Eversman finished 13th and Braedon Sitmann finished 20th overall and 19th in the men’s race. Seward’s Trevor Kreznar also finished 82nd in the men’s race and 95th overall. In the women’s race, Seward’s Tekla Seavey placed 16th, Anchorage’s Sabrina Farmer finished 21st and Rachel Topf of Eagle River placed 24th. Seward’s Milissa Lewis (32nd), Palmer’s Alida van Almelo (40th) and Wasilla’s Abbi Wagle (64th) also finished in the top 100.
“I would say Alaska doesn’t get enough credit for how competitive those races are,” Knopp said. “There’s a lot of really good people in Alaska that could’ve done well here. Those races don’t get the attention that the ones down here do.”