This article originally appeared on Outside
American marathoner Keira D'Amato continues to break the mold of what's possible after choosing to start a family and career in her early 20s, instead of pursuing competitive running right away.
After an eight-year hiatus from racing, D'Amato, 38, returned to training several years ago and has become the world-class, Nike-sponsored marathon runner she always dreamed she would be. She had been an All-American cross-country and track runner at American University, where she earned degrees in mathematics and computer science in 2006. After college, she joined the DC Elite training group coached by Scott Raczko, but was sidelined by a foot injury and retired from competitive running.
Fast forward to last year, and she not only set an American record at the Houston Marathon in 2022 (2:19.12, later broken by Emily Sisson), but she went on to place eighth at the world championships (2:23.34) in Eugene, Oregon, and then sixth at the Berlin Marathon (2:21.48) and 15th in the New York City Marathon (2:31.31). She's continued her strong running this year, and is one of the top entrants in the marathon at 2023 World Athletics Championships, which will run through the streets of Budapest on August 26.
Here are 10 things you should know about one of the best distance runners in U.S. history.
1. She's a Mother of a Young Son and Daughter
After retiring from competitive running because of a foot injury, Keira and her husband, Anthony,, started a family--they have an eight-year-old son named Thomas and a six-year-old daughter named Quin--and she eventually began a career as a real estate agent. Even after she finally had foot surgery in 2009, she said she had no interest in mounting a comeback.
"I don't know if I was told, but I just knew that you were first supposed to have your career--even if it's a professional athletic career--and then you can do something else and start a family. But I didn’t do it that way. I did a family first, and then I got into my career," she said. "I think it’s just opened people’s eyes that there’s not one right way. There’s a lot of different ways to do things. Now we’ve seen women almost have permission to be able to train later and to train through, and after, pregnancy, and we’re seeing the women’s times and amount of women participating skyrocket. It’s really been awesome to watch and connect with other women that wanted to have kids and thought their athletic dreams were over. They’re not. It’s really cool to see people realize that and take it and go for it. And it’s just, I mean, I get teary-eyed just just thinking about the whole, the whole thing. It's just an awesome time to be a woman."
2. She's Proud to be an Elite Athlete Who's a Mom
Last fall, when D'Amato placed 15th at the New York City Marathon, she was proud to be one of nine women among the top 20 finishers to be a mom. It was about that time, D'Amato said, that her daughter, Quin, then 5, asked her what she could become when she grew up.
"I told her that the great thing about life is you get to pick. You can be whatever you want, pick a goal, work your butt off, and you can do what you want to do," D'Amato said. "And she says, 'Well I think I wanna be a mom.' And I’m like, that’s great, you can be a mom! Then she says, 'I want to be a doctor.' And I said, guess what? You can be both! You can be a doctor and a mom. And she said, 'OK, that’s awesome.'"
While D'Amato admits she gets twinges of "mommy guilt" when she's temporarily consumed by training or racing, she also knows she's providing a strong example to her kids.
"I feel like we really are seeing a cultural shift, especially with women in sport, and I'm proud to be a part of that shift," she said. "But I think it's really important to switch that mentality and just allow women, especially parents, to have goals outside of their family and support them as they're going for it. I feel lucky that I’ve been able to inspire other people, but it takes a village, and I have a very supportive family, so I feel very lucky. I pinch myself all the time."
3. She Just Set a New American Record in the Half Marathon
Despite a horrific travel experience--which included missed flights, canceled flights, and airports full of exasperated travelers--D'Amato made it to the July 1 Gold Coast Half Marathon in Queensland, Australia, and broke Emily Sisson's American record by 13 seconds (1:06:39).
"Oh my gosh. It was wild. I’ve really never experienced anything that bad," D'Amato said of the travel experience. "But it was a really good lesson learned that, even though that didn’t go perfect at all, I found a way to stay off my feet and just stay positive and not let it get to me.
"I think being a mother kind of hardens you a little bit and just changes your perspective on life a whole lot, so I think I’ve reached these new heights because of the perspective that I had when I wasn’t running. Yeah, it’s been a wild ride, but I love every minute of it."
4. Last Year, She Was a Replacement Runner at the World Championships
Last year, after setting an American record in the marathon, D’Amato was between training blocks in late June when USA Track and Field called her to see if she would take the place of another injured American runner and compete in the world championships marathon in Eugene, Oregon. She accepted the invitation and finished eighth in the race and, along with Sara Hall (fifth) and Emma Bates (seventh), helped the U.S. to the best overall team finish.
"It’s really hard for me to put into words because wearing a Team USA jersey has been a huge dream for my whole life," she says. "When I left the sport and started a family, I felt like I said goodbye to that dream. I kind of mourned the loss of being able to represent my country. My husband serves in the military and is able to do that in his way, and I've always wanted to have the ability to do it in my own way. So last year when I got the call two weeks before, my coach and agent were like, you don’t have to say yes. But they could just see it in me that I absolutely wanted to do it. If I’m fit and healthy, there’s no way I’m ever gonna turn that opportunity down."
5. She's Prepared for a Fast Race in Budapest
The world championships marathon field is loaded with talented runners, including Ethiopia's Gotytom Gebreslase, who won the world championship race last year in Eugene (2:18:11), and countrywoman Amane Beriso, who finished second in Eugene and then won the Valencia Marathon in 2:14:58 in December and finished second in this spring's Boston Marathon ( 2:21:50). Also in the field are Kenya's Rosemary Wanjiru, who won the 2023 Tokyo Marathon in a world-leading 2:16:28, Ethiopia's Tsehay Gemechu (2:16:56), and Israel's Lonah Salpeter, last year's world championship bronze medalist (2:20:18) and 2022 New York City Marathon runner-up. And finally, representing Team USA with D'Amato are fellow Virignian Susanna Sullivan (2:24:27, 10th at the 2023 London Marathon) and Colorado's Lindsay Flanagan (2:24:43, 1st, 2022 Gold Coast Marathon).
D'Amato has been racing shorter and faster road races on the domestic circuit this year--which has included a runner-up finish at the USA 25K Road Running Championships in Grand Rapid, Michigan--to prepare for a more tactical race with pace surges. Most recently, D'Amato placed third at the TD Beach to Beacon 10K (31:58) on August 5, in Maine.
"The field is going to be extremely competitive like it was last year, but I think the weather is going to dictate what kind of race it is because there’s a potential of being a pretty hot day," D'Amato said. "If that’s the case, it might be a slower race, so we’ll see if it turns into a little bit more of a tactical race than just a race of attrition."
6. She's in the Best Shape of Her Life, Thanks to Changes to Her Training
D'Amato is coached by Scott Raczko, who has helped her continue racing at a high level while running moderate training volume as she's reached her late 30s. Whereas she was maxing out at 130 miles per week in 2020 heading into the U.S. Olympic Trials, this year her max mileage has been in the low 80s but also included a lot of fast workouts.
"I think there’s so many different ways to climb the mountain, and there’s a lot of marathon runners that train at high altitude in the mountains doing really high mileage. That is one way to do it," D'Amato said. "It’s all relative for where you are and how old you are and a lot of other variables, too. I don’t wanna say that my way is the right way, but I just need a little less volume and less time on my feet so I can crush some workouts while also doing a lot of cross-training. I think it's a big confidence booster going into Budapest knowing that I’m the fittest I’ve ever been."
7. She Cross-Trains Multiple Days a Week
In addition to running, D'Amato cross-trains by running in a pool, using an elliptical machine, doing various strength workouts, and rowing on a Hydro rowing machine. She uses the Hydro to warm up before running and to supplement her cardio workouts, but she also uses it for Pilates workouts and strength workouts.
"When COVID hit and my Pilates studio shut down, I started using Hydro for all of my Pilates work and some strength and conditioning work," she says. "It’s great because, for me, as I'm getting older, I can’t do as many miles as I have, so we’ve been supplementing with rowing workouts that can include high levels of intensity without all of the pounding."
8. She Owns a Running Store In Virginia
In 2022, D'Amato opened a running store in Midlothian, Virginia, called =PR= Run & Walk by Keira D'Amato through a business partnership with the Potomac River Running retail running company. D'Amato has lived in and around Richmond for decades and loves running there--especially at Pocahontas State Park. The running store is both a business investment, but more importantly she says it's a way to give back to the local community. The store sells shoes, apparel, and accessories, while offering training groups and hosting various community events.
"So much of who I am, I’ve learned through running--like my confidence, my work ethic, my discipline and just finding joy in mundane things," she says. "So I wanted to create a place in Richmond where I could share what I’ve learned with my community and help encourage, inspire, and support people, either through knowledge or gear, and especially the youth. For me it feels more than just a store. We do a lot of high school nights and I’ve given a lot of talks and done seminars and stuff."
9. She's Played a Role in the Rising Tide of Elite American Women Runners
D'Amato was running for American University when Deena Kastor earned the bronze medal in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics, the first global medal in distance running by a U.S. woman in years. During D'Amato's collegiate career, from 2002 to 2006, some of her competitors were women who would go on to raise the status of elite U.S. women runners on the world stage. That included Shalane Flanagan, Molly Huddle, Des Liden, Amy Cragg, Lauren Fleshman, and Sara Hall, who would go on to set American records, win major marathons, and earn medals at global championships. Now that she's emerged as one of the country's best marathoners, she's competing against the next generation of American runners that includes Alicia Monson, Elise Cranny, Emma Bates, Susanna Sullivan, and Emily Sisson.
"When I left competitive running, I was just a fan of them, but there was a part of me the whole time that wondered in a woulda-coulda-shoulda kind of way what I could have done. But also I was just inspired by everything they did," she says. "And then coming back to competitive running, there's definitely been a bit of a changing of the guard. Des and Molly and Sara are still around running strong, but we’re seeing all these like newcomers, too, who are doing some really spectacular things. I feel really lucky to have experienced racing with two different generations of American women."
10. She'll Likely Skip a Fall Marathon to Prepare for the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials
D'Amato has accomplished a lot since she rejuvenated her competitive running career four years ago, but if there's one more thing she wants it's the chance to run in the Olympics.
After the world championships, the next biggest priority is racing in the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials on February 4 in Orlando, Florida--a race in which the top three women will earn a place on the U.S. team that will race in the Paris Olympics. In 2020, when she was only two years into her comeback, she finished 15th in a personal best 2:34:24. Her personal best is 15 minutes faster, and she's a much more seasoned marathoner heading into 2024. But to make sure she's ready to roll, she'll likely skip a fall marathon this year.
"It’s gonna be really interesting to see who goes where and does what because, for people running the New York City Marathon, that’s only just over two months before the trials," she says. "And that’s another reason why running the world championships in Budapest is so enticing to me. It gives me the most time to take a little break and then have a proper build-up before the trials because it’s such a huge goal of mine to become an Olympian."
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