Keira D’Amato Ran 3:49 and Had to Walk During Her Marathon Debut; Now She’s the American Record Holder

By Jonathan Gault
January 20, 2022

Keira D’Amato‘s improvement from recreational runner to American record holder in the marathon is one of the most remarkable stories in the history of distance running. A top collegiate runner at American University (she finished 6th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in 2005), D’Amato spent a couple of years chasing the professional running dream after graduation in 2006 but stepped away from the competitive side of the sport in 2009 due to a foot injury, getting a job with mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

Eventually, D’Amato returned to the sport and in November 2017, D’Amato ran 2:47:00 at the Richmond Marathon. That performance convinced her to start training more seriously and chase the US Olympic Marathon Trials standard of 2:45:00 and ultimately set her on the path to setting the American record of 2:19:12 at the Houston Marathon last weekend.

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Going from 2:47 to 2:19 in less than five years would already qualify as one of the most impressive improvements in the sport, but D’Amato came from a lot farther back than that. She revealed on a special American Marathon record live Track Talk podcast with Deena Kastor, that her marathon debut came at the 2013 Missoula Marathon in Montana, where D’Amato ran…wait for it…3:49:49, good for 63rd place in the women’s division.

The D’Amato family after Keira’s American record in Houston
© 2022 Kevin Morris

D’Amato had been inspired to sign up for the marathon, which was held in July, alongside her husband Anthony after the finish-line bombings at the Boston Marathon that year left three people dead and hundreds injured.

“We felt like, well, that’s not going to stop us from doing a marathon,” D’Amato said. “So it was kind of like our way just to stick it to [them] and just show that we can rise up and do marathons.”

D’Amato set herself a goal of 3:20 (7:37/mile pace).

“I was a decent college runner and I ran post-collegiately, so I thought that that was going to be easy,” D’Amato said. “I thought that 3:20, I could do that in my sleep. And I didn’t train very hard. I took a lot of rest days. I wasn’t very intentional with my training and I went out with the 3:20 group and I got to mile 16 and just the body fell apart. I hit the wall and I was like, well, I’m done, but I’m not going to quit. So I walked/jogged the rest of the way. I was stopping at every single table that had gummy bears and just fitting as many in my mouth as I could.”

D’Amato saw the 3:20 pace group pass her. Then the 3:30 group came and went. So did the 3:40 group. And then, just as the finish line came into view, she saw someone holding balloons for the 3:50 pace group shuffle past.

“And that was when I put my foot down,” D’Amato said. “I was like, Oh, hell naw, I got this pacer. So I outsprinted that person and I ran 3:49:49. And I finished, I think in a similar way that I finished all my marathons, like totally pumped up, really proud. I couldn’t believe that I finished that day because when I got to mile 16 or 18, I just didn’t know how I was going to get to the finish line. But I found a way.”

After the race, D’Amato told herself the outcome proved she was a miler and that she would never run a marathon again. Neither of those things wound up being true, but one lesson from her debut in Missoula stuck with her.

“That took me a long time to like for the ego to bounce back,” D’Amato said. “It seriously humbled me. And you know I think that was a really good lesson for me because I will never underestimate a marathon ever again.”

After Missoula, almost four years would pass before her next marathon, the 2017 Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, during which time D’Amato gave birth to her two children, son Tommy (7) and daughter Quin (5). In between her pregnancies, D’Amato didn’t stop running entirely. She was living in Tampa at the time and had a four-mile loop that she would run five times a week while signing up herself and Anthony for pretty much any half marathon she could find in the city.

At that point, D’Amato was, to borrow a term from the LetsRun messageboards, a “hobby jogger.” She was running, but not in any sort of organized way. Those half marathons were more glorified long runs than races.

“I was running, but not intentionally, not with a plan, just because I loved it,” D’Amato said. “I would just run however much I felt like. I had some friends who were like, hey, we’re going to go for a walk today. I’d be like, yeah, walks, I love walks. Let’s go for a walk. I can do that.”

It was not until 2017, when D’Amato was 32 years old, that she returned to the competitive side of the sport in earnest. Her comeback began with a Christmas present to Anthony: an entry to the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach in March 2017. Feeling guilty about volunteering her husband for a 26.2-mile race, D’Amato signed up too and vastly exceeded her pre-race goal of 3:25 by clocking 3:14. That result inspired her to sign up for Richmond that fall, and after running 2:47 there, she hooked up with coach Scott Razcko, who has guided her improvement ever since. The rest is history.

You can hear D’Amato tell the full story of her marathon debut in the from the American record show with Deena in the video below.

Former American marathon record holder Deena Kastor joined D’Amato on a special video edition of Track Talk to celebrate D’Amato getting the record. Relevant segment begins at 18:54 mark:

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