By Jonathan Gault
November 20, 2020
Since 2011, Keira D’Amato has been part of the race committee for the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, the famous Washington, D.C. road race held along the banks of the Potomac River. She’s held a few different roles over the years; recently she’s been responsible for coordinating speakers for clinics at the race expo. This year, Molly Huddle was one of the scheduled speakers, and D’Amato told her she believed Huddle could break the women’s-only American record of 52:12, set by Janet Bawcom at Cherry Blossom in 2014 (coincidentally, D’Amato held the finish line tape for that race). After telling Huddle about the record, D’Amato realized something: I can run that fast too.
Over the following six months, as D’Amato has risen from obscurity to one of the best distance runners in the United States, that statement has become blindingly obvious. After running a personal best 2:34:24 to finish 15th at the Olympic Marathon Trials in February, the 36-year-old has spent the summer and fall demolishing her pbs, from a 15:04 time trial 5,000 on the track in June to a 32:33 10,000 at the MVMNT Race Series in July to a 68:57 to win the Michigan Pro Half Marathon on October 28.
On Monday, D’Amato will try to back up her claim from the spring: she’s going for Bawcom’s record at the Up Dawg Ten Miler, where she’ll face a five-woman professional field that includes Olympian Molly Seidel. And that leads into one of the oddest statistics of a very odd year.
If D’Amato had broken the record at Cherry Blossom in April (which cancelled its 2020 edition due to COVID-19), she would have earned a $10,000 bonus.
If D’Amato breaks the record on Monday — or even if she doesn’t — she could end up out around $8,000.
That’s because D’Amato is covering most of the costs of the Up Dawg Ten Miler, which will take place in an undisclosed location in the DC area. Even though D’Amato is staging a race for five athletes rather than Cherry Blossom’s typical 17,000, several key expenses remain: getting the course USATF-certified and measured, securing park permits and road closures. It can add up quickly.
And then there is drug testing. USATF rules state drug testing is only required to ratify American records in events for which World Athletics recognizes an official world record. Since 10 miles is a “world best” distance, that means drug testing isn’t required to ratify an American record at the Up Dawg Ten Miler — but D’Amato is leaning toward including it anyway to avoid all doubts. However, based on the quote she received from USADA, it would run her an extra $3,000-$3,500. She hasn’t made a final decision yet.
There is an online store selling race merchandise to help offset the cost of the event. And around 20 members of the CUCB organizing committee have also chipped in a total of $2,000 — and, more importantly, their time — so that D’Amato can chase the record.
“If there was a way to measure intensity per person, this race would be much more intense [than the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run],” says CUCB event director Phil Stewart. “We’re not dealing with getting 17,000 people entered in the race and moving them around or ordering as many porta potties or things like that, but this is a group of special individuals. I’ve spent a lot of time being consumed by making sure that we have all of the conditions set for the record to be accepted if the record is broken. If Keira or anybody breaks the record here, the worst nightmare would be that there was some little USATF rule that I didn’t know about that was required for an American record to be set.”
Stewart knows that feeling all too well; last year, Stanley Kebenei thought he had broken Greg Meyer‘s American 10-mile record at Cherry Blossom, only for it to be revealed that a set of cones had been improperly placed, making the course 240 feet short (CUCB still paid Kebenei the $10,000 bonus).
With no mass race entries to fund the Up Dawg Ten Miler, CUCB will lose money on the event. But it’s worth it to Stewart to support D’Amato, whose meteoric rise he has followed first-hand — Stewart was among a group of CUCB committee members who traveled to Atlanta to support her in the Trials in February.
“One of the things that has been fun about [this event] is that in a time when there’s so much downbeat news, I think a lot of people have gotten excited about working on something that’s upbeat,” Stewart says.
And D’Amato? Well, in keeping with her carefree, laid back demeanor, she’s trying not to think about the cost and electing to focus on the positives. Five fast women (Susanna Sullivan, Bethany Sachtleben, and Emily Durgin round out the field) are gathering on Monday at 8 a.m. to race 10 miles. There will be a free live stream, with commentary, on the CUCB Facebook page. This should be fun, right? No. This will be fun.
“For me, it’s not about the money at all,” D’Amato says. “Right now when everyone’s starving for motivation and opportunity, I felt like this would be a service to the running community. And it fell in line really perfectly with my training too.”
Keira D’Amato’s return to competitive running began with a joke. Which, if you know anything about D’Amato, could not be more fitting.
D’Amato loves all things humor. The name of Monday’s race, Up Dawg, was her idea — a nod to a joke from The Office. When D’Amato joined Strava a few years ago, she began using jokes or puns to title her runs. Sample entry: November 16. My cousin, a magician, decided to incorporate the use of trapdoors in his shows. But I think it’s just a stage he’s going through. She used to rely on her children’s popsicle sticks for material or by asking her Amazon Alexa, “Tell me a joke.” As she amassed Strava followers (she’s over 2,600 now), she began receiving suggestions from fans — which delights her to no end.
“You have no idea how awesome it is that when people hear a funny joke, they think, Oh, I need to send this to Keira,” she says.
D’Amato’s impishness was on display during Christmas 2016, when she decided to gift her husband, Anthony, an entry to the 2017 Shamrock Marathon, held in March in Virginia Beach.
“Who gives someone a gift of a marathon entry?” D’Amato says. “Because that means you have to start training a lot. It’s kind of a backhanded compliment gift, I guess. But then I felt a little bad, so I signed up too.”
D’Amato was no stranger to running. A four-time All-American at American University under coach Matt Centrowitz, she finished 6th at the 2005 NCAA XC champs as a senior, ahead of future stars Amy Cragg, Molly Huddle, and Jenny Simpson. She remains friendly with the Centrowitz family, and is even in a fantasy football league with Olympic 1500 champ Matthew Centrowitz — let’s just say both D’Amato and Centro are better runners than fantasy football managers.
“I think at one point, I was in second-to-last and he was dead last,” D’Amato says. “But I also think Centro does a whole bunch of them, so maybe in his other leagues he’s doing better. But it was either the first or second week, I played him, and I crushed him.”
After graduating in 2006, D’Amato (then known as Keira Carlstrom) spent a few years running for DC Elite, a post-collegiate group coached by Scott Raczko — better known as the coach of Alan Webb. By 2008, she had lowered her 1500 personal best to 4:22, but was in constant pain, beset by a series of stress fractures and ankle pain. Her issues were the result of a condition known as a tarsal coalition — an abnormal bridging of bones in the foot — but the surgery to correct it was not covered by her insurance.
So D’Amato “retired” and got a job at mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Even after undergoing surgery to correct her condition in 2009 (her new job had better insurance), D’Amato ran sparingly for the next seven years. In her first run back after giving birth to her daughter, Quin, in August 2016 (she also has a six-year-old son, Tommy), D’Amato couldn’t make it through a three-minute run without walking. Yet she steadily built up ahead of Shamrock, and despite hail, sleet, and brutal winds on race day, D’Amato blew past her pre-race goal of 3:25.
“I couldn’t run slow enough to do that pace,” says D’Amato, who ran 3:14.
D’Amato felt there was a lot left in the tank, and took her next marathon, in Richmond in November, more seriously. After running 2:47 there — just two minutes off the Olympic Trials standard — she knew it was time to return to serious training. She reunited with Raczko, and steadily dropped her times while balancing running with her career as a realtor. When she ran a pb of 2:34 to finish 15th at the Trials at age 35, it looked like the culmination of a remarkable three-year journey.
In reality, D’Amato was just getting started.
Since the Trials, D’Amato has run personal bests over almost every distance. Her 15:04 5,000 doesn’t officially count because it came in a time trial rather than a race, but it’s faster than the Olympic standard of 15:10 and would have ranked her 6th in the US during the 2020 outdoor season.
Her most impressive performance came in last month’s Michigan Pro Half Marathon, where she clocked 68:57, 47 seconds ahead of runner-up Emma Bates, a 2:25 marathoner who finished 7th at the Olympic Trials. That made D’Amato the second-fastest American half marathoner on the year, behind Sara Hall, and 10th on the US all-time list. She is now in very elite company.
US all-time women’s half marathon list (record-eligible courses)
|Shalane Flanagan||New Orleans||2013||68:31|
|Joan Benoit Samuelson||Philadelphia||1984||68:34|
|Keira D’Amato||Shelby Township||2020||68:57|
Hat tip Jake Shelley for the stat
And D’Amato is still not done. Though Huddle’s overall 10-mile AR of 50:52 is likely beyond her grasp, the women’s-only record of 52:12 should fall on Monday (D’Amato came through 10 miles in roughly 52:38 during the Michigan Pro Half). Next month, she’ll travel to Chandler, Ariz., for the Marathon Project, where she’d like to break 2:25.
But D’Amato’s main focus is next year’s Olympic Track Trials. She’ll be aiming to compete in the 5,000 and 10,000, but doesn’t think she has a best event yet. She simply defines herself as a “distance runner” — fitting for a woman who has run pbs in both the mile and marathon in 2020.
It’s rare to see any athlete make their Olympic Track Trials debut at age 36, rarer still for that athlete to have a legitimate shot at making the team. But D’Amato believes that if she can sharpen her track speed next year after building her strength in 2020, she can do it.
“Everything that happens between now and then is a stepping stone to get me closer to making the team next June,” D’Amato says. “So this fall is all about base training, the longer distance, getting in a lot of strength work.”
Currently, D’Amato spends her mornings training and the rest of the day working her full-time job as a realtor. She does not have a shoe sponsor (though she has received gear from Tracksmith, Potomac River Running, and CEP), and she’s okay with that arrangement.
“I definitely think a sponsor could help me and elevate me and take me to the next level, but I don’t need it,” D’Amato says. “I can be kind of an anxious, obsessive person, so for me, having something else so I don’t obsess over running has been a really healthy thing. And I really do like real estate. I feel like I’m really good at it, and I like helping people in that way.”
That said, as she has improved this year, D’Amato has gradually been pulling back on her real estate career, and says she expects to pull back even more as the Track Trials approach.
“If I had a sponsor that would fund me completely, I’d put [my real estate career] on hold,” D’Amato says.
To that end, D’Amato has been working with agent Ray Flynn, who has been in talks with shoe companies. D’Amato understands she does not fit the typical athlete sponsorship model — “I’m not a 20-something NCAA champion” — but in some ways, that reveals the flaws of the system. D’Amato is funny, personable, and relatable. She’s a mother of two. And let’s not forget, she’s running some of the fastest times in the country after an eight-year absence from the sport and will be a contender at next year’s Trials. If that’s not someone a company wants to sponsor, the sponsorship model is broken.
“She was like, You know, I think you’re the fastest hobby jogger out there,” D’Amato says, recalling the story. “She’s like, I didn’t mean to offend you by saying that. I was like, No, Lindsey, you’re right. I am. I’m like, queen! I’m gonna own this!
“I don’t take any offense to being a hobby jogger, I guess. And since then, I’ve maybe graduated on to something else. But I feel like I’ve been a lot of different types of runners throughout my career. I’ve had really high highs in high school and college and then I’ve been injured and struggled to even run a mile. So I feel like I’ve really experienced every single way you could have running in your life.”
Related: MB: Unheralded mother of two and realtor, Keira D’Amato , runs 15:04 5K time trial and she’s coached by Alan Webb’s HS coach!!
*Morgan Pearson (62:15) and Keira D’Amato (68:57) Win Michigan Pro Half-Marathon
Hobby Jogging Discussions Over The Years On The LRC Forum.
2012: Definition of a hobby jogger
2017: What is a hobby jogger?
2018: The Definition of “Hobby Jogger”
2018: Hobbyjoggers are very friendly, better runners are snobbish
2019: Hobby Joggers vs. Actual Runners
More Hobby Jogging threads here