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5 Life (and Running) Lessons From Deirdre Keane, the Humans of New York Runner

Deirdre Keane became a low-key internet sensation after a condensed version of her life was told on the Humans of New York Instagram account. We wanted to know the full story.

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“It isn’t about the finish line anymore. It’s just a part of my life now,” Deirdre Keane, 33, said in her Humans of New York profile as told to creator Brandon Stanton. She was talking about completing 33 marathons after reflecting on her first, which she ran in honor of her father. “He ran his last NYC marathon on the day before his final surgery. The oncologist told him not to do it.” 

Keane was 13 when her dad died, three years after being diagnosed with skin cancer. 

Keane’s story is astounding (and there’s so much more to it), but so was the reaction from runners, sharing their stories, imploring Keane to keep running, and reveling in the metaphor of the activity: “[Running is] meditation, achievement, peace, discipline, self-discovery…” commented one person. “I run because of my dad, too,” wrote another. 

Last week, Ali Feller hosted Keane on her podcast, Ali on the Run Show. After the social media post that equated to a long paragraph piqued our interest, it was great to have an hour-long discussion to get to know who this runner is. After a tumultuous year working as a nurse practitioner during the pandemic, a hard break up, and almost losing her brother in a car accident, Keane shared how her perspective on life and running has changed. 

Here are 5 things we learned (or were reminded of) during the podcast that inspired us. 

1. Running Will Always Be Full of Surprises

With very little running experience, Keane signed up for two half marathons. After trudging through the second she thought there was no way she would ever be able to run a full marathon. “But I just kept running,” she says. 

When she eventually signed up for one marathon, in honor of her father, she had a lot of limiting expectations: She won’t become a marathoner. She’ll need at least five hours to run it, if she finishes at all. 

Finishing in 3:52, it was easier than she thought it was going to be. Almost from day one, running has been a source of surprise for Keane. Feller echoed the sentiment: “I know that, for me, running keeps surprising me.” 

It goes to show that we shouldn’t be our own nay-sayers. We don’t know what is going to happen on the run. But if we get out there, we could be pleasantly surprised. 

(Listen to the podcast to hear about a particularly surprising run in which Keane ended up waist-deep in cement).

2. Running Should Add Value to Your Life

With a 3:14 marathon PR, Keane has a goal of one day running 26.2 miles in under three hours. She notes that keeping that goal light in her mind is important. “At what point are you trying so hard that it becomes more difficult, and you feel like it’s stressing you out?” 

Like many of us, Keane has had moments where running was taking more than it was giving. But she’s resolved to keep it as a joyful part of her life. “If it happens? Great,” she says of her sub-3:00 dream. “But it’s not going to be the end-all be-all for me.” 

3. We All Have a Story Worth Sharing

“My story is not worth sharing. People go through such extreme hardships, what makes me think that I have a reason to be sad?” Keane admitted feeling to Feller before her story was ultimately shared. 

We know what ultimately came out of sharing her story is connection: The runners in the comments cheering her on, the new runners who now want to give it a try, and even people who knew her father that reached out about how he changed their lives. 

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a serious lack of connection that we are all craving. Even if you just share your story with one person, one friend, who knows what it could motivate them to achieve.   

4. Running Can Help Us Put Life in Perspective

Magical things can happen on a run. When Keane was experiencing some of the worst depression of her life, she says it was in running that she was able to begin to think about the future. 

“It was such a sense of refuge, at points. I would feel like I would be OK.”

Feeling like she was missing her old, happy, resilient self, she could recognize in her morning runs that eventually she would get there again. Just like on a run, she just needed to keep going. 

RELATED: Running Isn’t Therapy. Therapy is Therapy.

5. Why Not Now?

OK—there are admittedly a lot of reasons a ‘why not now’ mindset won’t work for some people. We are still in the midst of a dramatic global pandemic and all sorts of hardships coming out of that are perfectly good reasons to put some dreams on pause. 

But the complete shake-up of daily life might be the perfect reason to go chase whatever crazy dream you have. For Keane, that’s the World Marathon Challenge: 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days. She’s officially signed up to take it on in 2022. 

The event series has been on her bucket list for several years now. “Finally I was like, ‘Screw it. Why can’t it be now? What am I putting on hold?’” 

Why not now? 

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