When Keira D’Amato crossed the finish line at the Marathon Project race in Arizona this past Sunday in second place, she wasn’t thinking about how her time of two hours, 22 minutes, and 56 seconds made her the seventh-fastest American woman to run a marathon on a record-eligible course. She wasn’t thinking about all the professional runners she beat.
D’Amato, an elite amateur runner and full-time realtor, had other things on her mind. She had finally earned the title of fastest marathoner in the D’Amato household, beating her husband Anthony’s record of 2:31:49 from 2008. It’s a goal she’s had for a while.
“For years,” D’Amato laughs. “I’m not making this up. This isn’t something that I’m just saying to be funny. I’ve really trained my butt off to be able to be the fastest D’Amato.”
Her second place finish at the Marathon Project in Arizona caps a streak of record-breaking runs and headline feats for the 36-year-old mother of two who lives in Midlothian, Virginia.
In January, D’Amato ran a 1:10:01 half marathon, followed in late February by a 15th place showing at the Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta. Over the summer, she ran multiple time trials on the track that would’ve been Olympic qualifying times, including a blazing 15:04 in the 5K, which made her just the seventh woman 35 and over in history to run a sub 15:05 in the distance.
D’Amato was just getting started. In October, she won the Michigan Pro Half Marathon with a personal best of 68:57 to move to No. 10 on the U.S. all-time performers list. And just last month, she ran a 10-mile road American record around Anacostia Park in 51:23.
D’Amato improved her marathon time by 11 minutes on Sunday, and joins a top ten list of best U.S. marathon times alongside Olympic champions like Joan Benoit Samuelson and legends of the sport like Deena Kastor and Shalane Flanagan. She calls the women on the list her “role models and inspirations.”
“Just wild,” D’Amato says after hearing the list of names. “It’s funny, because there’s part of me that just listening to you, I just have to like double blink and be like, ‘What did he just say?’ But then there’s the other part of me that’s like, ‘Seventh? Let’s try to improve that.’ It’s such a weird, like, I don’t even know how to explain it, but you can kind of think the same things. It’s wild and surreal, but at the same time, it’s like, I have more work to do. I’m gonna move up that list.”
With guidance from her coach, Scott Raczko, D’Amato headed into Sunday’s race planning to run at a pace of under 5:30 per mile with the intention of running the second half faster than the first.
She started the race, which involved several loops around the flat, 4.26-mile course, with the second pace group alongside Emma Bates and Stephanie Bruce, both professional runners, with the goal of breaking 2:23. Olympian Nick Willis and Ben Bruce served as their pacers. In front of them, Sara Hall, the eventual winner, and third place finisher Kellyn Taylor were aiming for the American record.
Hall’s time of 2:20:32 fell less than a minute short of the American record set by Kastor in 2006, and Taylor finished in 2:25:22.
“When we took off and I saw Kellyn go with Sara, I was so pumped, like, I was so proud of her for like putting it out there and going for it,” D’Amato says. “And it’s really inspiring to see someone being like, yep, I’m going for it. Like it got me all jazzed up.”
Bates and Stephanie Bruce eventually fell off the pace, and for the second half of the marathon, it was just D’Amato and Ben Bruce. With around six miles to go, she asked Ben if he could pick up the pace.
“He was like, ‘You want to go faster?’ I’m like, ‘Not a lot faster, just like a little bit,'” D’Amato explains. “He said, ‘OK,’ so we started working it down a little bit.”
A few miles later, she had Taylor in sight, using the light poles next to the street as a measuring tool to see how far behind she was. Once D’Amato passed Taylor, she knew to lock in. Ease up, and experienced pros will take advantage.
“Having those women behind you is terrifying,” she says. “Because they are so strong, that if I don’t keep pedal to the metal, they are gonna catch me and just pass me, so it gives you so much like fuel and so much encouragement, just be like, OK, I cannot let up because these are women you do not want to mess around with.”
She didn’t, and created a several minute buffer between her and Taylor, and finished the race with a negative split, just like her coach wanted.
Now, D’Amato is back home in Virginia with Anthony and their two children. She plans to take it easy the next two weeks, with no scheduled workouts. That’s her way of celebrating.
“We can just relax in the mornings,” D’Amato says.
Next year, she plans to focus on the track and wants to make the Olympic team in either the 5K or 10K. As for sponsors, D’Amato has been in discussions with several companies but has yet to finalize a deal.
That’s not really one of the goals, anyway. She wants to take her time making that decision.
“I don’t want to put any pressure on that being a goal. Because my goal is to run as fast as Keira can run,” D’Amato says. “It’s really important to me to find the right partner with a company that I believe in and that I respect and that I’m passionate about. And so I’m not taking this decision lightly.”
Whatever she decides, D’Amato can rest easy knowing that during a global pandemic, few runners trained as hard or accomplished as much as she did. Family records included.