10/01/2022 By RuneLite
Clayton Freeman @CFreemanJAX
Mar 6, 2019 at 6:31 PM
Mar 7, 2019 at 1:44 PM
Fighting through eating disorders, injuries and nearly 15 years away from the sport, new Jacksonville resident Kate Landau continues her distance running comeback at Saturday's Gate River Run.
The breeze blew in off the St. Johns River on a morning with temperatures in the 30s, and for a few minutes, Kate Landau felt like she was in Washington again.
But this was a fresh start, and the training run needed to continue. One step. Then another. Then another. Up the Northbank Riverwalk, continuing on toward the other side.
This time, she's running for the right reasons.
Landau knows the peaks of the life of a runner. She also knows the valleys.
For the 42-year-old, Saturday's Gate River Run means more than her first chance at the USA Track and Field 15-kilometer championship.
It's also a new beginning.
"There's such a great running community here," she said. "People have reached out to me already."
Scan the hometowns of the top finishers in the Gate River Run any time during the last couple of decades, and you'll see plenty of runners from Colorado. Or Massachusetts. Or Arizona.
This year, perhaps, there might be a different entry: Jacksonville.
An elite marathoner who's now a new Jacksonville resident, Landau is set to test her skills against some of the nation's top distance runners at Saturday morning's race through downtown, San Marco and St. Nicholas.
"It's pretty compelling when you think about what she's been through, having laid off running for such a long time," Gate River Run elite athlete coordinator Jim Van Cleave said.
Landau moved to the First Coast at the start of the month — she only completed her relocation on Saturday — where she's planning to continue her full-time career as a physician assistant specializing in oral and laryngeal oncology with Baptist Health.
It was the kind of move only a runner could make.
Landau and her 6-year-old daughter, Grace, took a flight from Seattle to Atlanta, where she stopped to run the eight-mile Road to Gold race Saturday afternoon — she finished eighth — and then drove on to her new home in Riverside.
"It's been a whirlwind," she said.
The whirlwind started long before the weekend.
EARNING ACCOLADES AND COUNTING CALORIES
There was a time, at Tri-Valley High School in Grahamsville, N.Y., when Landau looked set to conquer the running world.
As she recalls, the running bug bit when she was an 11-year-old tracking down grounders as a softball shortstop. An umpire, who happened to be a track and field coach, noticed her speed running the bases and chasing balls in the hole.
Maybe, the umpire thought, running was the sport for this girl.
It already was the sport for Kate's older sister, Caryn, an accomplished runner in her own right who went on to qualify for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon.
"I was kind of resistant to it at that point ... but once I started having success, I was hooked," Kate said.
Success came fast. By 1991, she was already a nationally known high school competitor, placing third in 17:54 at the Kinney Shoes National Cross Country Championships.
But it was on June 13, 1992, that she really made a splash, setting a national two-mile record for high school sophomores and earning a Los Angeles Times headline by running 10:20.3 at the National Scholastic Track and Field Championships in Van Nuys, Calif.
The victories continued through to college. She followed Caryn to Georgetown, and in the nation's capital, Kate won Big East titles, finished as the NCAA runner-up in the women's 10,000 meters and raced at the U.S. Olympic Trials for the 1996 Atlanta Games.
At those Olympic Trials, she placed 11th in her heat of the 10,000, an event that also included three former or future Gate River Run winners in Gwyn Coogan, Cathy O'Brien and Jen Rhines.
Everything was going perfectly, it seemed. Unless it wasn't.
Ever since her middle school days, Landau had been battling anorexia.
"I was afraid of going through puberty, because I thought that was going to slow me down," she said. "So I knew that if I kept myself small, I would be able to delay that, and I did ... but not in a healthy way."
In the world of distance running, where tenths of a second can mean victories, scholarships and spots on national teams, the pressure to search for every possible advantage — including reducing weight — grows intense.
A 2001 study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders surveyed elite British female distance runners from 1996 and 1997, near the peak of Landau's collegiate career. That study estimated that 16 percent fulfilled the criteria for an eating disorder.
"It's more common than we'd like to think," Van Cleave said. "It's a big challenge for [runners]."
For Landau, nothing escaped her notice. Every calorie was documented, every step had to cancel it out. Her dedication to exercise, she said, grew into an obsession.
"We would go to church and I would count the calories in the juice or bread at Communion, count the calories of sticks of gum and record everything," she said. "It was pretty bad."
By age 16, her eating issues were starting to become increasingly visible. She said her family and coaches required her to see a psychiatrist and made sure she gained weight before she could run again. That meant about a month on the sidelines.
"I was showing enough of an effort," she said, "that people would leave me alone."
On the outside, the problem looked fixed. But the habits weren't gone, not even by the time of a New York Times profile in 1996 that chronicled her fight with anorexia.
The struggle dragged on for years, dropped her weight as low as 79 pounds and sapped the strength from her bones. She estimates that she suffered 25 stress fractures in a five-year span, even as she neared the top of the college running world.
"I'd get injured, then run a couple weeks, then get injured again," she said.
The low point, she said, came during her senior year at Georgetown. Already fighting constant injuries and depression, she realized her running career was slipping away.
At the NCAA championships, she entered among the contenders in the 10,000. Instead, while attempting to run through another stress fracture, she quickly lost touch with the lead pack, finishing fifth from last in 35:38.27, more than a minute and a half behind winner Leigh Daniel of Texas Tech.
Finally, the results of those eating disorders had brought her running career to a stop.
A stop. But not a finish.
'I CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE'
Before that race, Landau had considered extending her racing career into the professional ranks after college. But the injuries and the disappointment had thrown a detour sign onto that path.
"Once the NCAAs finished, I knew that was not going to happen," she said.
So she stepped away from the road, and stayed away. She decided to make a totally fresh start, moving to California.
While pursuing a career in the medical field, she worked to keep fit through cycling. But no more running. That was through. By 2006, she told reporters that she hadn't gone on a run in four years.
What wasn't through, though, was her struggle with eating disorders. Landau was beginning to gain more weight — she describes it as her body "rebelling" — and fought back with obsessive exercise.
Finally, with her body nearing another collapse at age 34, she found help.
"I looked up a therapist who specialized in eating disorders, and a nutritionist, and a doctor, so I had a whole team," Landau said. "I basically just said, 'Help me. I can't do this anymore.'"
Within a couple of months, she said she already felt drastic improvements.
That might have been the end of the story right there: Former elite runner fights for decades through life-altering eating disorders, then goes on to live a normal life.
But four years ago, while living in Washington and raising Grace, Landau made another decision, after some 15 years on the sidelines: She was returning to the road.
"I had no expectations," she said. "Running that 5K, I thought I'd just run faster than I was used to running with a stroller."
The old running feeling was coming back. Soon, so were the results.
On May 1, 2016, she entered her first marathon, in Tacoma, Wash. She ran away with the race, in a course record time of 2:43:51.
"I never expected to be able to run again, never expected to race again," Landau said. "I certainly never, ever expected to run a marathon, because my body had been breaking down."
In 2017, Landau finally took on the Boston Marathon, running 2:40:02 and placing 21st overall in the field.
Since then, she's regularly shaved those times further. The brightest moment came at October's Chicago Marathon, when she took off and kept running, and running.
"I didn't even know I was top 10 when I was racing, but I saw I was passing people like [Olympians] Gwen Jorgensen, Alexi Pappas, people that I didn't expect to pass," she said.
The final result: She crossed the line eighth in 2:33.24, third among American women. Six weeks ago, she added a Miami Marathon title in 2:37:45.
She's already clinched qualification for her second U.S. Olympic Trials next year, 24 years after her first, even though she recognizes her chances of qualifying for the 2020 Games in Tokyo against a field of professionals are slim.
Landau said she had never even visited the Sunshine State until December, when she arrived for a visit with a friend, applied for her new job and raced the VyStar New Year's Eve 5K.
In that short spell, she said she fell in love with the First Coast, with the ocean and the multitude of running events here.
"There's so much to do here, especially with my daughter," she said. "I'm tired of the cold and all the rain and the terrible traffic in Seattle, ready for a big change."
THE NEXT CHAPTER
Landau says she's not sure what to expect Saturday, although she's run and won 15K races before — she topped the standings at the 2017 Hot Chocolate 5K in Seattle, running 54:32.
If all goes well, she's hoping she might be able to break into the top 10, which would be a milestone in itself. Not since Kim Pawelek in 2004 has a Northeast Florida resident finished among the top 10 women at the Gate River Run.
Two decades after her last college race — Landau returned to Georgetown in February to enter the school's athletic hall of fame — she's going strong once again. The next chapter begins Saturday.
"I think my story does give people some hope as far as recovering from eating disorders, from depression, from injury," she said.
Back to practice now. She takes her next step and rockets down the incline of the Riverwalk. Kate Landau says she loves downhill running, and on the Hart Bridge, the Green Monster, she'll get plenty of practice.
As she gets ready for her first try at Jacksonville's showcase race, with her daughter planning to cheer her on, she hopes that the younger generation of runners learns from her fight.
"Be healthy and be patient," she said. "There are so many years ahead, and if the talent and the drive are there, the success will come."