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America’s Fastest Female Marathon Runner is Almost Forty, Yet Still Pushes Through
By: Jovia Zhang
The American record holder of the women’s marathon, Keira D’Amato, is preparing to run at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Virginia, on a Thursday morning in June.
Most wouldn’t expect the 37-year-old mother of two to be training here of all places. But then again, her story is a unique one. She returned to the second chapter of her running career after being forced to sit out for fourteen years due to an injury. During the past five years she has been running again to get back on her feet—emotionally as well as physically—and today she’s more powerful than ever, knocking out one goal at a time.
Last January, D’Amato was drenched in the joy, the accomplishment, the exhilarating feeling of breaking a record when she finished the Houston Marathon in 2 hours, 19 minutes, 12 seconds, beating the U.S. women’s marathon record set in 2006. After crossing the finish line, according to The Washington Post, she “looked around and thought: I can go faster.”
Breaking the record was only one of her goals. D’Amato still wishes to achieve many more awards, milestones, and experiences during her running career. For instance, she wants to represent the United States globally and to qualify for the Olympics. Unfortunately, if D’Amato wants to accomplish all of her goals, she needs to do so urgently, for when the 2024 Olympics in Paris begin, she’ll be three months away from age forty.
But she’ll still be 37 when the World Track-and-Field Championships marathon in Eugene, Oregon, takes place this month. D’Amato has qualified as an alternate for Team USA in this race. If any of the three runners drops out, D’Amato can fill in for her, accomplishing her goal of representing the United States.
As much as she wants to achieve her goals, there are certain choices D’Amato refuses to make. According to The Washington Post, “That’s why she’s here, in Richmond, and not training at altitude. It’s why she still works as a realtor instead of making the sport her full-time job. It’s why she signed a long-desired contract with Nike only after ensuring she wouldn’t be required to adjust the routine that brings her here, to the track at St. Christopher’s.”
Since D’Amato broke the record, she is frequently asked to pose for pictures. Although she’s still unfamiliar with the newfound attention, she accepts it, steps back, and poses.
D’Amato is married with two children, 7-year-old Thomas and 5-year-old Quin. Her husband Tony is a delivery manager at Microsoft.
At home, D’Amato has a home gym. Foam padding covers the floor, protecting it from all the equipment in the room: elliptical, rowing machine, squat rack, medicine balls, and dumbbells.
There’s a wall that displays the finish line from the Houston Marathon, her record-breaking time, and her autograph, written in Sharpie. On another wall are her and her husband’s framed running tanks from high school.
After her high school years, D’Amato joined DC Elite, a professional running team coached by Scott Raczko, the coach who led Alan Webb to his record-setting time in the mile in 2007.
Two bones in the runner’s left foot were connected in a way they weren’t supposed to be, causing her to need a surgery which her insurance didn’t cover. This slowly pushed the athlete into early retirement, and she became a realtor. For the next eight years, D’Amato lived a life outside of running, even after she underwent foot surgery in 2009.
Fortunately, D’Amato didn’t abandon running altogether. In 2013, she tried her first marathon, hoping to be able to qualify for Boston. After “everything you can imagine going wrong in a marathon” happened, D’Amato decided the 26.2-mile race wasn’t for her.
D’Amato was a mom of two by 2016, and she claims that her children are the most important facet of her life. “When I come home from a race, whether I win or lose, they’re like: ‘Hey, Mom. What’s for dinner?’ They don’t care, you know?” she said.
As loving as the family is now, it wasn’t always this peaceful for them. Five years ago, Tony was sent around the country for Air National Guard training. Quin had just been born and Thomas wasn’t even two yet. Even though D’Amato had help, she constantly felt alone with all of the pressure. For her, it was easiest to stay home, even if she felt trapped there.
When her mother-in-law came to help watch the kids, D’Amato would go for a run. She said it was a hobby: some people do book clubs, others hoard collectors’ items. She went on runs.
In 2016, while Tony was still running (he hadn’t been deployed overseas), Keira signed the two of them up for the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach as some sort of Christmas present. This time, with some training, she persevered through the sleet and hail, finishing the race in 3:14:54.
D’Amato kept going, kept running while her times kept falling. At the Richmond Marathon in 2017, she finished in 2:47:00, two minutes too slow for the 2020 Olympics qualifying mark. D’Amato believes that this was the race that pushed her forward, giving her hope and making her wonder exactly how fast she could go. With the help of her old coach, Raczko, she was able to find out.
With a time of 2:34:24, she finished 15th at the Olympic Trials race in February 2020. Next, she helped organize the Up Dawg Ten Miler in Washington, D.C. Clocking a time of 51:23, she claimed the U.S. women-only 10-mile record.
D’Amato realized that during her first act as a competitive runner, her goals would be achieved if she worked hard enough. Those same goals eventually left her feeling lost and confused when they evaded her. This second chance was really what brought her spirits up and stabilized her optimism again.
As Raczko trains D’Amato, he finds himself exploring new territory. Even though D’Amato is slowly going through her thirties, he hasn’t needed to change her workouts.
“I don’t even know if she would have had the capability to do this when she was younger,” he says, then pauses. “Well, she didn’t.”
Now, D’Amato is preparing for the World Championships. Despite her unusual journey, she has been and still is pushing forward, showing everyone how incredible she really is.