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Realtor, mother, and elite marathoner Keira D’Amato is part of our Spring 2022 360 YOU. Our focus for the second edition of this members-only program, led by TrackClubBabe, is how to unlock your potential. D’Amato will share her thoughts on her career choice alongside running and will allow us a sneak peek into how she plans a race season alongside real life. We caught up with her before Mother’s Day for her first 360 YOU entry.
Yes, you read that right: “Running isn’t about fast,” says the fastest female American marathoner of all time.
Keira D’Amato’s life has looked vastly different at different junctures. By now, many people even beyond the running community have heard her story. After winning the Houston Marathon in January and setting the American female record in a blazing 2:19:12, news about the “37-year-old mom of 2” and “realtor who quit running for eight years” spread beyond the running outlets. And the headlines tried to depict a seemingly full picture of the pro runner and her journey to the feat.
It’s true, though, that running did not hold the same meaning to D’Amato in the time between college and her return to elite racing in the past three years.
“That’s the special thing about running, is that it can evolve in your life and your ‘why’ can change,” she says.
As a freshman in high school, D’Amato started running cross-country, hoping to impress the soccer coach ahead of spring tryouts. She stuck with it because she quickly developed a passion for it. After high school she went on to run at American University, followed by a stint with DC Elite post-collegiately.
“Before kids, running was my whole life. I put so much pressure on it. My identity was there,” she says.
But an ankle injury that required surgery eventually sidelined D’Amato’s competitive running ambitions.
“It took becoming a mother for me to rediscover my love for running,” she says. She refers to the years bouncing between her first pregnancy and nursing, to the next baby and more nursing, the “awkward years” where her body didn’t feel like her own.
Returning to running after having her two kids not only helped her feel in control of her body again, but helped her conquer her previous notions about running and feeling like she was only as good as her last race.
“It was because I had my family and my core and all of a sudden it made sense to me. It took all the pressure off running,” she says. “Instead of my life revolving around running, my life now revolves around family and if I find that little sliver of time in my day for a run, it [feels] like a gift.”
That’s not to say she hasn’t struggled with quintessential mom guilt. “Every step that I wasn’t with them I was thinking, ‘Am I making the right decision here?’”
She’s proud to be part of the “secret society” of mother runners—women she can spot at the playground wearing running shoes that clearly have some mileage on them, a GPS watch fit for training, almost like a uniform. “You immediately feel connected to that woman because you know how hard it is,” says D’Amato, tearing up.
But over the guilt, she has noticed that “filling her cup” through running allows her to be more patient and attentive. “I think running has made me a really good mother,” she says.
Now she has a list of priorities that help to keep her focused and her values aligned. That list: Family, running, and her real estate career. Keeping that list in mind helps her to not overextend herself.
Daily, D’Amato protects the hours between the end of the work/school day up until when her kids go to bed as her family time. Otherwise, she’s focused on the process of chipping away at her career goals. Everything else she lets go of, admitting and accepting that there are a lot of things she just “sucks at.”
And that allows her to get in that family time, work her job, and train to be the best runner she can be. It allows her to focus on the day-to-day without getting overwhelmed by the mountain of achievements she could chase after.
“It’s been really small steps at a time. Every time I reached a goal, it’s like, well what’s next? What else can I do?” she says.
Like when she finished the 2017 Richmond Marathon in 2:47:00, just two minutes shy of the Olympic Marathon Trial qualifying time, she figured she had to go for it. “That was the moment where everything became really intentional,” she says.
At Grandma’s Marathon in 2018, she nabbed her OTQ, finishing in 2:44:04. At the Berlin Marathon a year later she lowered her PR to 2:34:55. She lowered it yet again in Atlanta at the Olympic Marathon Trials where she placed 15th in 2:34:24.
And when the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined most racing, she created her own goal race, running the 10-mile American record in her very own ‘Up Dawg’ race in 51:23.
While fast goals are what she seemingly sets for herself, D’Amato assures that it’s really fun that she’s setting out to achieve. “Most of the time, running is not about fast,” she says.
She urges runners to set goals for themselves that align with their ‘why’ and what truly motivates them. “There are so many other goals to running besides just time,” she says. It could be setting up a consistent running routine in your life, or a goal to run a new distance, a more challenging weekly mileage, or perhaps taking down a Strava crown you have your eyes on.
And for mother runners in particular, defining your reason and the goals that will keep you motivated is essential for integrating running into your life in a way that allows you to let go of the guilt.
“I think stories like mine are opening up the narrative, like motherhood can be part of a leap forward and you don’t have to pick one or the other,” says D’Amato.