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Keira D’Amato’s Secret to Success? Fun and Family

After a heartbreaking spring, Keira D’Amato rebounded to win her first national title. In January, she might even go for the American marathon record.

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Keira D’Amato is the one with the jokes (see her Strava profile). She is consistently the most gleeful across any finish line. Her Instagram stories are usually filled with laughter and antics with her family. But even D’Amato has had a dark day or two along the way.

A chronic hamstring injury, caused by a strength imbalance in her glutes, forced D’Amato, 37, out of the U.S. Olympic Trials for the marathon and the 10,000 meters. For a woman who had an unexpected comeback to the sport of running and suddenly found herself in contention for its highest honor, missing that opportunity (twice) was downright heartbreaking.

“It’s like the world is going on without you. You’re just sitting on the sidelines, just wishing you were part of it,” she says. “I had to pull out of the Trials when I thought I had a legit shot at making the [Olympic] team. I let myself be sad…I gave myself 72 hours and I was just sad and pissed. I mourned the loss of another goal.”

After a few days, though, D’Amato, a real estate agent who lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, Anthony, and their two children, Tommy and Quin, recalculated and refocused on Paris 2024, but also the other parts of her life that don’t receive as much of her attention when she’s in heavy training.

“You don’t want to marinate in the sadness, you just want to move forward,” she says. “I went all-in with family stuff that I wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to do. On Sunday mornings, instead of me being out for three hours on long runs, we’d get up and make breakfast. I tried to cherish the small things I wouldn’t normally get to enjoy.”

She also did a few big things during the injury break, like getting her broker’s license and opening a property management company.

“It gave me a new set of goals and had me working toward things,” D’Amato says. “I think it’s natural for anyone to think ‘well, this is it!’ when they’re injured. But my coach [Scott Raczko] said, ‘Keira, this is going to be a speed bump…just keep it in perspective.’”

After months of physical therapy (she still goes twice a week), D’Amato finally strung together a few weeks of consistent training. In October, she lined up for the 2021 Chicago Marathon with low expectations, knowing she wasn’t in the same fitness as December 2020, when she clocked her fastest time (2:22:56) at the Marathon Project, an elite-only marathon that offered a flat looped course with pacers.

Nonetheless, in Chicago, D’Amato placed fourth (2:28:22), behind winner Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya and Americans Emma Bates (second) and Sara Hall (third). It’s a performance that, although not her best, is one she’s most proud of, she says.

RELATED: Ruth Chepngetich Wins the 2021 Chicago Marathon; U.S.A.’s Bates and Hall Place Second and Third

“I get a little emotional about it, but right before I got to that race, I drove myself to the airport and I left myself a note in the car. I knew I wasn’t going for any time goal…bottom line, though, I knew I was going to give it my all,” she says. “So I left myself a note that said, ‘You did good. I’m proud of you, Keira.’ I came back and it made me cry. I was kind of being funny when I left it. I didn’t know how much it would mean to me. It was really powerful.”

The note is still in her car and it was waiting there again when D’Amato returned from the U.S. half marathon championships, which were on December 6 in South Carolina—a race where she surged from the lead pack and mile five and only grew her lead from there. She won in 1:07:55, not far off of Molly Huddle’s American record of 1:07:25.

Keira D'Amato crossing the finish line with arms raised as she wins the USATF half marathon championships.
Keira D’Amato wins the USATF half marathon championships. (Photo: Johnny Zhang)

It is D’Amato’s first national title, a significant milestone on her list of career accomplishments.

“I have been dreaming of winning a national title for over 25 years. Ever since I found the sport of running,” she says.

It’s the kind of performance that can give D’Amato confidence on the way to her next race on January 16: the Houston Marathon, where she has the potential to improve her marathon time. Although she won’t commit to a pacing plan until the week of the race, taking into consideration how her workouts and long runs go between now and then, as well as the weather forecast, she likes where she’s at, even tempted to talk about Deena Kastor’s American record (2:19:16), set at the 2006 London Marathon.

“I’ve never won a marathon before, so that’s a big goal of mine. Right now I think I’m in sub-2:22 shape, which is really exciting,” she says. “I know the American record. I know what that is. If I’m around 2:20 shape, we’ll definitely go for it. If I’m close enough I’ll go for it and see what happens—if everything goes well this month, if I’m in a position where I think that’s a good goal.”

The last weeks of training for a mom of two during the holidays can prove tricky, but D’Amato embraces the role her family plays in her training and racing. Instead of the usual rounds of visits to grandparents and other friends and family, they’ll stay home this year so she can train and stay healthy.

“I have a long tempo run on Christmas Eve, so I know that’s going to throw off things a little bit, but my husband will think of something really fun to do with the kids,” she says.

After all, it’s the fun that the D’Amatos try to keep in the forefront of her running career—the secret to her success in all things, she says.

“We’ve found a way to keep running in our life in a fun way and I think that my family has had fun with it, too,” D’Amato says. “Like, I had to do a workout in the dark a month ago, after a really long real estate day. The kids and my husband came to the track and were running around with flashlights. I’m out there working my tail off, thinking ‘Why am I out here in the dark doing this? It’s really silly.’ But we were all there together having fun with it. The more my family is involved, the more fun it is.”