Sound to Narrows win another comeback milestone in fast four years for top Tacoma female runner

Runners hit the pavement for Sound to Narrows

First place finishers Francis Reynolds and Kate Landau talk about the Sound to Narrows 12K event.
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First place finishers Francis Reynolds and Kate Landau talk about the Sound to Narrows 12K event.

This two-year stretch of running for Kate Landau – it’s remarkable.

So much that it might be the best two years of any female runner to hail from the South Sound – and not just for a 40-year-old.

“You take age out of the question and she’s running very well,” said Matt Ellis of the Tacoma City Running Club. “And then the fact that she’s a masters — that’s very, very impressive.

“And that she’s representing Tacoma is pretty cool.”

Two months after finishing second in the female masters division of the Boston Marathon, Landau was the top female finisher of the 45th annual Sound to Narrows race on Saturday at Vassault Park in Tacoma — the longest running 12-kilometer race in the South Sound and one of the most challenging 7.46-mile races in the country.

She finished in 44 minutes and 33 seconds, which was 12th overall. TCRC teammate and former University of Puget Sound runner Francis Reynolds was the overall winner, finishing in 39:44.

“I was more nervous coming into this than going into Boston,” Landau said. “This means a lot to me — partly because the course is hard and partly because it’s my hometown race and I work for MultiCare (which sponsors the race). There’s more external pressure when more people know you.”

It was a beautiful morning for racing — sun, a slight breeze and no dark clouds in sight, and Landau was chasing the women’s race record, which race organizer Danette Felt said is believed to be 43:10 set in 1987 by then-10-year-old Carrie Garritson.

But the single mother said she wore herself out the previous weekend pushing her 4-year-old daughter, Grace, in a stroller for 20 miles at a 6:20-mile pace.

So Landau altered her goal – just win.

And here’s what her resume looks like with her first Sound to Narrows title (after placing second two years ago behind University Place’s Sherida Bird):

▪  St. Paddy’s (Tacoma) overall winner in March 2016. She beat all the guys, too.

▪  Tacoma City Marathon winner in May 2016 – in record time.

▪  Tacoma Narrows Half Marathon overall winner in August – beating all the guys, again. No woman had ever been the race’s overall winner before her.

▪  Portland Marathon champion in October, shattering the women’s master’s record and posting the second-best time ever by a woman. It was fast enough to qualify for the 10K at the Olympic Trials, but the qualifying window wasn’t yet open.

▪  Second in the Boston Marathon women’s master’s division (40 and older), finishing in 2:40:02.

And this has all come after she recently re-emerged as an elite runner. She went 15 years without running because of an eating disorder.

Landau said it was this day four years ago that she was fired from her previous job, living homeless and getting unemployment checks.

“And I wasn’t running even — I couldn’t run a mile at that point,” she said. “It’s been a big change in four years.”

Running was healing.

“The first year of being a mom, I had a lot of guilt taking any time to myself,” she said. “And now I find that it makes me a better mom. It gives me more energy. I’m almost 41 and I have a 4 year old, and to keep up you have to have energy.”

So they go on weekend runs together, with Grace sitting in the stroller watching a movie on an iPad and mom running all around town.

“Her commitment is an inspiration,” sad Reynolds, who is also a teacher at Meeker Middle School and is from Palo Alto, Calif. “I think the best runners are the runners that don’t make excuses and make it a habit and a part of their lives.

“I hear of some of the workouts she’s doing and I’m like, ‘Whoa – she did 20 miles at a 6:50 pace pushing a stroller – I didn’t do that,” Reynolds laughed.

Not everyone is like Landau — capable of zipping through the Boston Marathon, being a college All-American at Georgetown University and a qualifier for the Olympic Trials at age 22 — which she hopes to do again 24 years later in time for the 2020 Olympics.

Ellis could only think of one other who lived in the South Sound and has had as much running success at Landau — Doris Brown Heritage graduated from Peninsula High School and in 1966 became the first woman to run a sub-five-minute indoor mile and later was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame.

But, for Landau, she said she was just as impressed with the other 4,700 runners — of all speeds, sizes and walks of life — at the Sound to Narrows. She thinks about how she felt not exercising at all, she said, for a year after Grace was born.

“Four years ago I was trying to find a job and doing a family practice and I was out of shape,” Landau said. “It was hard for me to talk to patients about exercising when I was doing nothing. I find a lot of satisfaction in that because I’m in vascular surgery now and being able to talk to patients about going out and exercising and being healthy — I can do that now with some security in myself because I take care of myself.

“The transition was just finding that love of running again, and finding that it was healing for me and necessary for me and meditative for me. It makes me feel healthy. It keeps me young. I love to run.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677, @tjcotterill

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