Keira D'Amato with Olympians Carrie Tollefson and Joan Benoit Samuelson at the 2017 Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run.
Keira D'Amato, right, with Olympians Carrie Tollefson and Joan Benoit Samuelson at the 2017 Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. Photo by Kelyn Soong.

Six years ago in D.C., Keira D’Amato had a front row view when Janet Cherobon-Bawcom made running history. As part of the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run race committee, D’Amato remembers “somehow being able to weasel” her way into holding the finish line tape as Cherobon-Bawcom broke the women’s only start American record in the 10-mile road race, finishing in 52 minutes and 12 seconds.

At the time, D’Amato was pregnant with her first child and had stopped running competitively after a standout career at American University, but that didn’t make the moment any less impactful for her.

“It’s just incredible when you see an American record,” she tells City Paper. “I’ve always been a big fan of the sport, so just having literally a front row seat to see such a historic moment was really, really special and incredibly motivating and inspiring.”

Now 36, D’Amato, a Northern Virginia native who made headlines this year for running Olympic qualifying times on her own in the 5K, has her sights on the same record she witnessed being broken. On Nov. 23, D’Amato will run a U.S. Track and Field-certified 10-mile course in an undisclosed location around D.C. in an attempt to break Cherobon-Bawcom’s American record. The race, which is being put together by the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run organizing committee, will not be made public to prevent a large gathering but 10 to 20 elite American women are expected to participate.

“The pace is 5:13 [per mile] pace, so I’m just going to go out and run faster than that,” D’Amato says with a laugh. “So that’s my plan … The goal is just to hit [the] American record. And I think it’s kind of bold of me being an amateur runner, like kind of putting it out there that I’m going after this American record. I feel like it’s pretty bold and I’m just putting it all out there, but that’s my goal and win, lose, or draw, I’m fine sharing my journey with the running community or the world, really.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down large road races and gatherings, D’Amato, a full-time realtor who lives in Midlothian, Virginia with her husband and two young children, was busy planning for this year’s Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run scheduled for April 5. For the past decade, D’Amato has been a part of the race committee, and race director Phil Stewart had tasked her with finding and reaching out to speakers for the event’s clinic, including Olympian Molly Huddle.

Stewart wanted to make sure that Huddle and her agent knew about the $10,000 bonus for breaking the American record that Cherobon-Bawcom set at the 2014 Cherry Blossom race. D’Amato realized something as she passed the message along: She could run that fast as well.

“So I was trying to encourage her to go after it. But then I was kind of thinking, man, I should do this race and try to go after it too because I know I can run that time,” D’Amato says. “So that’s when the little seed was planted.”

When safety concerns caused race organizers to cancel their events, she immediately thought to plan a 10-mile race of her own. It would give her some control over her training schedule and motivation to train. D’Amato reached out to Stewart to set the plan in motion.

The two drove around during the summer months to figure out the course, which has been certified and is record eligible. Local elite runners Bethany Sachtleben and Susanna Sullivan have also expressed interest in participating, according to race organizers.

So far this year, D’Amato has traveled around the country to run a few elite-only races. In July, she beat a field of professional women to win a 10K race organized by Olympian Molly Seidel’s coach, Jon Green. Afterward, D’Amato took a brief break before ramping up for this fall. She had planned for the 10-mile American record attempt to be a few weeks after she returned from Poland, where the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships had been held in mid-October, but the United States did not end up sending a team.

She is currently in Michigan for a half marathon race this Wednesday put together by the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project. D’Amato is also in the field of 50 women for The Marathon Project 2020 on Dec. 20. The 10-mile run will be her first race in D.C. this year.

“Originally, I was kind of feeling a little like this was my baby and I kind of wanted to keep it a secret and to be my thing,” D’Amato says. “I do pretty good with time trials, so I wasn’t really afraid of doing it by myself, but then I started thinking more about it, and I don’t think it would feel like a true American record if it wasn’t in a race with other people that could potentially hit it too. And I kind of felt like I’d be doing a disservice to the running community if it was secret and I didn’t invite other people … I’m sure I’m not the only one sitting around wanting that record. So I wanted to invite other people. And I know that would motivate me, and I’m sure it gives everyone doing it a little fun in their offseason, too.”