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Get ready to hear about Keira D’Amato’s latest accomplishment. She plans to put it on T-shirts, business cards, and in her email signature.
“People are gonna be so annoyed,” D’Amato says. “You are not gonna forget that I have an American record. And then when someone breaks that, it’s gonna be ‘former American record holder.’ So this is something I can carry with me for the rest of my life. I’m pretty pumped about that.”
D’Amato’s excitement is certainly warranted.
On Tuesday morning in Anacostia Park, the 36-year-old amateur runner, full-time realtor, and mother of two young children, shattered the women’s American record in the 10-mile road race, finishing in 51 minutes and 23 seconds. She broke Janet Cherobon-Bawcom’s previous record of 52:12 set at the 2014 Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, where D’Amato held the finish line tape.
The event, dubbed the Up Dawg Ten Miler in reference to D’Amato’s favorite joke, was organized by the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run race committee, which D’Amato has been involved with for nearly a decade.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of large gatherings and road races, Cherry Blossom race director Phil Stewart tasked D’Amato with asking Olympian Molly Huddle to be a speaker for the race’s clinic in April. Stewart insisted that Huddle be reminded of the $10,000 bonus for breaking the American record. In relaying the message, D’Amato realized that she was fit enough to potentially break the record as well.
And when race cancelations started rolling in, she decided to plan a 10-mile race of her own with help from Stewart. It motivated her to train through the pandemic, even as majors events were being postponed or canceled.
The Up Dawg Ten Miler had originally been scheduled for Monday but race organizers delayed the race by one day due to weather. They wanted ideal conditions for a record attempt, and Tuesday delivered. At race time, the temperature was in the low 40s with minimal wind.
At first, D’Amato thought of running the record attempt solo, but quickly changed her mind. It didn’t feel like an honest attempt if she didn’t have other runners, she told herself. Joining her on the starting line Tuesday were four other runners: Olympian Molly Seidel, professional Under Armour runner Emily Durgin, and two local standouts, Bethany Sachtleben and Susanna Sullivan.
Unlike the actual Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, no prize money was on the line. D’Amato sold gear to help raise funds and even had a logo created for the event. She says that her brother introduced the “up dawg” joke to her about 15 years ago, before it was popularized in an episode of The Office.
“I’m not going to say The Office got it from me, but maybe The Office got it from me,” she says with a smile. “I don’t know.”
A little after 8 a.m., the runners set off, going on an out and back plus a loop around Anacostia Park about three times on the U.S. Track and Field-certified course. D’Amato, who had to run under 5:13 per mile, didn’t waste any time taking control of the field. Within in a half mile, she had built a sizable lead over Seidel. D’Amato ran the first mile in 5:12 and only got faster from there.
“I didn’t want to go out too fast and shock everything,” she says. “So I tried to run the first mile conservative. And then I just locked into a pace that felt comfortable. And I would kind of just do a little audit during the way and just make sure I was under the pace. And then I felt like I could relax a little bit. I didn’t want to be running from behind, so [I wanted to] just build me a little bit of a buffer. It gave me a lot of confidence just to stay relaxed, stay smooth, and just work through it.”
Those in the crowd of a few dozen spectators included her husband, Tony, their two children, other family members, her coach, Scott Raczko, and race volunteers.
At the mid-way point, D’Amato was well under record pace and still felt good. By the eighth mile, she says she started to feel “pretty confident.”
D’Amato was hundreds of meters ahead of Seidel by the time she pulled into the final straightaway, and with the finish line in sight, she raised both her arms triumphantly, breaking the tape held by her mother and husband, who ran to give her a hug as she cried tears of joy.
“I’m just overwhelmed with emotion,” she says. “That’s all I could say. Like, I’m surprised but not surprised. I’m so excited that this happened.”
Seidel, who placed sixth at the London Marathon in October, finished second with a time of 53:36, followed by Durgin (54:03) and Sullivan (54:22). Sachtleben dropped out early in the race.
D’Amato has not lost any of the races she’s entered during the pandemic, including a 10K race in July organized by Seidel and her coach, Jon Green. She also won the Michigan Pro Half Marathon last month, again beating a field that included professionals.
“She’s just so talented,” Seidel says. “I think it’s really inspiring to see someone who kind of stepped away from the sport for a number of years and now has come back and is just lighting the world on fire. I think she’s one of the favorites to make the team for Tokyo. I would say the 10K probably. Hell, she can make the 5K at this point. I don’t want to jinx it. Knock on wood. But yeah, she’s just so strong right now. And I don’t think there’s a lot of people right now doing what she’s doing.”
Upon hearing Seidel’s prediction, D’Amato laughs. Her goals are to train for the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in track and field, but to hear a vote a confidence from an Olympian still feels surreal.
“Do you know how wild that is to hear Molly say something like that? That makes no sense to me,” D’Amato says. “But everything that I’m doing this fall is for track 2021, so this is just a stepping stone … I’m gonna put it all on the line and I’m not afraid to share my goals with the world, so that’s definitely what I’m training for right now.”