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Many elite runners were primed to perform their best in 2020, what was supposed to be the Olympic year. Keira D’Amato’s plans were no different and the pandemic hasn’t seemed to get in her way, either.
On Tuesday, D’Amato set a 10-mile American record for a women’s-only race in 51:23, at the Up Dawg event in Washington, D.C. Despite the lack of competitive opportunities this year, it was D’Amato’s vision to create a race to go after the mark, which had been held since 2014 by 2012 Olympian Janet Bawcom (52:12). D’Amato contacted the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler organization for logistical support, invested thousands of her own dollars, and made her dream come true, crossing finish well under the goal.
In normal times, an American record and a win would likely yield more than $10,000 in prize money. This year, however, D’Amato actually paid out of her own pocket for the experience, selling Up Dawg apparel and gear to help recoup some of those funds that went toward race course certification, drug testing, and other expenses.
Nonetheless, the record is another achievement in D’Amato’s collection in the last nine months, beginning at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February, where she placed 15th in a personal best (2:34:24). In June, she staged a 5,000-meter time trial on a track, which she finished in 15:04, more than a minute faster than her PR as an athlete at American University, where she graduated in 2006. She followed that up in July with a 32:33 in the 10,000 meters, then a win in October at the Michigan Pro Half Marathon with another best time (68:57).
“We were supposed to accumulate fitness to have a really successful year this year,” D’Amato said during a phone interview with Women’s Running on November 18. “So going through all the motions and getting those time trials has been good. It’s confirmation that what we’re doing is working—I’m peaking at the right times…When everything shut down, my reaction was that my running didn’t have to.”
Molly Seidel, who was runner up at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February, placed second on Tuesday in 53:36. Emily Durgin, who trains with Dark Sky Distance in Flagstaff, Arizona, was third in 54:03.
D’Amato’s success as an unsponsored athlete—a 36-year-old realtor and mother of two—has captured the attention of all kinds of fans, especially this year. She took a decade away from the sport after a failed attempt at a post-collegiate pro career. At the time she suffered a foot injury that required surgery, but lacked the insurance to cover the cost, so she moved on to her career in real estate and married her husband, Anthony D’Amato.
But after she gave birth to her daughter in 2016, D’Amato was looking for a way to cope with the stress of being alone with two young children (her husband was deployed for almost a year with Virginia Air National Guard). She gradually returned to running as stress relief.
“I really struggled having a two-year-old and a baby at home without my partner in crime,” D’Amato said. “It was tough and I was lonely and I filled all of that with running. It wasn’t a conscious decision to get back into it. It was the way I chose to heal myself in hard times.”
Eventually the D’Amatos moved to Midlothian, Virginia, to be closer to family and she became more serious about her training, reconnecting with her now coach, Scott Raczko.
“My training plan when I first came back was pretty much run as much as I could to get a root beer float—if I could run 10 miles in a day, I would get a root beer float at night,” she said, laughing. “And [Raczko] was just shaking his head and thinking I’m ridiculous when I told him about my root beer float training program.”
Her strategy has since advanced, of course, but D’Amato still keeps the humor and perspective in her running. Her next race is scheduled fo December 20 at the elite-only Marathon Project, a 26.2-mile invitational near Phoenix, where she’s hoping for yet another best time, in the 2:25 range.
Her second act has been a surprise, even to D’Amato. She started out running every other day back in 2016, gradually progressing her weekly mileage to 60, then up to 80 miles. Eventually, in the lead up to the Olympic Marathon Trials, she logged 130 miles during her peak training weeks. A typical day involves running before the kids get up, helping them get ready for school, working as a realtor during the day, running again before picking up the kids, dinner, bath time, bed time…and a solid eight hours of sleep each night.
“It requires a lot of help—I had to get my whole family on board to do this seriously,” D’Amato said.
The ultimate goal is to compete in the 5,000 meters and possibly the 10,000 meters next summer, at the U.S. Olympic Trials. The top three finishers who also have achieved the Olympic standard (15:10 for 5,000 meters) will make the team going to the Tokyo Games. Unlike most runners at her level, D’Amato remains unsponsored by any major brands, which typically serves as the financial base for pro athletes.
“I would definitely welcome the right partner and I’m looking at that right now. I’m very hesitant because everything right now is working for me, so I don’t want to rock the boat too much,” she says. “Really, I’m just doing this to see how fast I can run. I don’t know many other people who took a decade off of running and then tried to come back. I feel really proud that I’ve grinded it out and done it my way.”