Adventurer of the Week: Kate Landau adds Portland Marathon title to comeback story

With no other runners in sight as she runs the warning track of Cheney Stadium, Kate Landau of Tacoma, went on to capture the Tacoma Narrows Half Marathon in August.
With no other runners in sight as she runs the warning track of Cheney Stadium, Kate Landau of Tacoma, went on to capture the Tacoma Narrows Half Marathon in August. dperine@thenewstribune.com

At the front of the pack during the Oct. 9 Portland Marathon, some of the men asked the only woman among them if she was running the half marathon.

“No,” the woman replied. “I’m doing a full, too.”

Suddenly, the men picked up the pace.

“You could tell that they were a little bit on edge that there was a female running with them,” she said. “They surged to get away from me and I just let it happen because I was going too fast anyway.”

By the finish, Kate Landau, the South Sound’s fastest woman, caught some of the men as she finished fourth overall in 2 hours, 38 minutes, 45 seconds. In the 18 years of results posted on the Portland Marathon’s website, fourth was the highest overall finish for the winner of the women’s race and just the second time a woman cracked the top 10. Landau finished 2:20 behind winner Matthew Palilla of Bend, Oregon.

This is nothing new for the single mom and physician assistant in MultiCare’s vascular surgery department. Earlier this year she finished ahead of the men’s winners at the St. Paddy’s (Tacoma) and Tacoma Narrows half marathons. In her first marathon, the May 1 Tacoma City Marathon, Landau was second overall and set a new race record.

“There’s always going to be a little bit of ego that feels good about that kind of accomplishment especially when you are in the mode of racing,” Landau said. “Afterward, I don’t think too much of it because I’m not really competing against the guys.”

Landau’s Portland Marathon time shattered the masters (40 and older) record by 6:39 and was the second-fastest ever by a woman.

Records are nothing new for Landau, but she’s just happy to be running at all, let alone at an elite level. When she was 22, the college all-American was pretty sure she’d never run again. An eating disorder left her body incapable of handling the rigors of the sport.

She abandoned the sport for 15 years before rediscovering her gift. “Your talent never leaves you,” said Matt Ellis, Landau’s Tacoma City Running Club coach.

Fast but unhealthy

Landau’s running talent was discovered when she was a kid growing up in New York. She was softball player and the junior high track coach was an umpire. The ump was impressed by the way she ran the bases.

In seventh grade she made the varsity team and finished second in the state. In the eighth grade she won the state title.

By the time she left high school she was the top-rated distance runner in the nation and accepted a scholarship to run at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Landau had some impressive moments with the Hoyas. She earned all-American honors and finished second in the nation in the 10,000 meters in 1996 and qualified for the Olympic trials.

2:38:45Kate Landau’s time in the Oct. 9 Portland City Marathon. A new masters record and the second fastest time for woman in the 45-year history of the race.

Nonetheless, Landau says “I never realized my potential.”

Her running career would be derailed by an eating disorder

Landau had anorexia. She says she was addicted to exercise and obsessed about what she ate. At one point in high school, she weighed 80 pounds. In college her weight was typically 90-100 pounds.

Today, Landau says she weighs about 114 pounds and is open about her struggles.

She says the disorder started when she tried to lose weight in an attempt to delay puberty. Part of her concern was that changes that came with puberty would make her a slower runner.

“Unfortunately, it’s part of the sport for young women,” said Ellis, who also coaches at Bellarmine Prep. “You’re super fast and then your body starts to change. It’s mentally tough for a lot people.”

Without a proper diet, Landau was left prone to injury. At 22, after graduating from Georgetown, she stopped running.

‘Tell me what to do’

Over the next 15 years, Landau figures she ran no more than 100 miles.

Instead, she took up the low-impact sport of bicycle racing. She moved to California in an attempt to reboot her life and eventually ended up in Tacoma.

In the meantime, the battle with the eating disorder continued. Landau was in her mid-30s when she asked for help.

“I went to an eating disorder specialist and said, ‘Tell me what to do,’ ” she said. “Then things changed dramatically.”

God brought me through this. I’m blessed to have the family, friends and support group that I have.

Kate Landau, 2016 Portland Marathon champ

Landau got stronger and healthier. She became pregnant with a daughter, Grace, who’d become the centerpiece of her life. And she discovered that once again she could run without pain.

“It’s pretty impressive that she overcame this,” running coach Ellis said. “I think it says a lot about her.”

Running again, Landau was quickly rediscovered. Ellis noticed her running at the 2014 Santa Runs Tacoma Half Marathon. Landau won the women’s race and finished second overall.

Ellis invited her to join the Tacoma City Running Club. Other members of the racing team also urged Landau to join.

Landau told them her daughter and work were her priorities and that she wouldn’t be able to make the team’s practices. Then Nancy Ellis, Ellis’ wife and a team member, told Landau she didn’t have to go to any of the practice.

Landau was on board.

Aiming for 2020

Today Landau’s training is nontraditional.

With Grace and work occupying most of her time, she crams in her runs where she can. Usually, during her lunch break. She doesn’t stretch. She doesn’t do yoga. She doesn’t strength train. And she rarely logs 60 miles in a week.

“I’ve been able to compartmentalize,” Landau said. “Work is work and being a mom is most important.”

Ellis designs workouts for Landau and she usually does them on her own. He says he never has to push Landau to work hard.

“If left to her own devices, I think she’d hammer everything,” Ellis said.

Tacoma City Running Club coach, Matt Ellis, says Landau’s 10K personal best, 33:08.57, is likely the fastest time run by any woman who’s ever lived in Tacoma.

The approach is clearly working. She’s heard her 4-year-old daughter tell people, “My mom wins all the races.”

Landau says she’s elated to have reclaimed her health and her recording-setting running career. She credits her faith, her family and friends for the support she needed to overcome the obstacles in her life.

As the newly crowned Portland Marathon champ, Landau isn’t afraid to aim high.

In 2020, 24 years after running the 10k at the Olympic trials, Landau wants to return to the trials. This time in the marathon.

Her time in Portland would have been fast enough to make the trials, but the qualifying window doesn’t open until next year.

“I’d given up on running and I’m amazed and grateful to be doing this,” Landau said. “It’s a fun experience.”

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