Top 6 Highlights from LetsRun’s Chat with American Record Holders Keira D’Amato & Deena Kastor

By Jonathan Gault
January 23, 2022

On Wednesday, three days after she broke the American record in the marathon in Houston, we were lucky to have Keira D’Amato as a guest for a special live, American Record episode of LetsRun Track Talk. Not only that; we also had the woman whose record she broke, Deena Kastor, whom LetsRun.com readers named as the greatest American female distance runner of all time in 2020.

In the hour-long episode, D’Amato and Kastor shared a number of stories and we really enjoyed their camaraderie and we recommend you watch the show (available as a video below and as a podcast for Supporters Club members).

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We liked two stories so much we’ve already shared them as their own articles:

1) D’Amato walked/ran 3:49:49 in her marathon debut in 2013 and

2) D’Amato 1st met Deena 3 years ago and served as her chauffeur and bouncer at the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler.

Below are six more highlights from our American record special.

1) Deena Kastor is at peace with her American record being broken and gave Keira a congratulatory phone call (just like Joanie did for her)

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Kastor first set the American record in the marathon on April 13, 2003, in London, running 2:21:16 to eclipse Joan Benoit Samuelson‘s time of 2:21:21 from the 1985 Chicago Marathon. When she broke it, Benoit Samuelson called Kastor after the race to congratulate her, a tradition Kastor continued after D’Amato’s record run in Houston (and yes, Kastor was up early watching Houston from her California home despite the race starting at 5 a.m. local time). Kastor would lower her record to 2:19:36 in London in 2006 and, all told, held the American marathon record for 18 years, 9 months, and 3 days. By the beginning of 2022, Kastor knew her mark was on borrowed time.

“Between the talent of US distance runners and shoe technology, I just knew that the time was coming,” Kastor said. “And so, you know, I’ve reflected on this, even three years after holding the record, that the record really mattered when I was pursuing it and then when I reached it. That gratification of pursuing and reaching your goal. After that, it doesn’t really give you much in return…It was time to reflect on people asking who is is going to be [who breaks the record]? And to be honest, I didn’t know. I thought just about anybody could do it because we have such a talent pool to pick from.”

2) Keira D’Amato had to put on her “big girl pants” to go somewhere no American had ever gone

Just past the halfway point of the 2022 Houston Marathon, D’Amato’s pace began to slip as she battled a headwind blowing out of the northwest. Though D’Amato was never above American record pace — even at 30k, she was still on pace for 2:19:35, one second under Kastor’s AR — things were getting tough. So tough, in fact, that D’Amato made a deal with herself: if she just finished this marathon, she would not have to run another one.

“In that moment I was thinking, I want to run the American record, whether it’s here or at another race,” D’Amato said. “But if it’s not here, it’s going to have to be at another race. And I’m going to have to get to this point again, where I figure out how to work through all this and keep going and push through.

“So in my head, I’m like, well just do it today. Because then you never have to do this again. You never have to run again if you don’t want to, you never have to do another marathon. Just stay on the pace and finish as hard as you can.

“…During the race, I was, I don’t know if mad or disappointed or frustrated that it wasn’t feeling comfortable, but then I’m like, Keira, you’re going somewhere where no American woman has gone before. This isn’t supposed to be easy, you know? So just put your big girl pants on and keep going. Because you know you can do this.”

As D’Amato crossed the finish line, she reflected on how difficult the race had been and decided she would probably never run another marathon. That thought didn’t last long.

“Probably 10 minutes after, I was like, that was awesome! I’m so proud!” D’Amato said.

3) D’Amato has no plans to give up her career in real estate: “I think I’m a really great realtor”

Last year, D’Amato signed a sponsorship contract with Nike, who are well-known for offering significant bonuses for breaking records or winning medals. Despite that, D’Amato said she has no immediate plans to abandon her career as a realtor (though she does scale back her hours from time to time).

“I love real estate,” D’Amato said. “And right now it’s all working for me. I think it’s created a really balanced life that has taken a lot of pressure off of running and allowed it to stay really fun and pressure-free. And for me running, the financial side is really great. I’m really appreciative for everything [agent] Ray Flynn has done for me, but it’s all about how fast I can go and where are my limits and what’s my potential?

“So I think having the real estate side keeps my goals exactly that. Like the last few weeks before the Houston Marathon, I tried to really limit my real estate, largely because of the [potential for] COVID exposure, but I found myself really anxious. And when I didn’t have other things to think about and focus on and just keep my mind active that were non-running, I just thought about running all the time. Which for me, that’s not a good thing. It’s not broken, so I’m not gonna fix it, but I love real estate. It makes me really happy. And I think I’m a really great realtor. So I’m going to keep rolling with it.”

4) D’Amato’s response to those who argue her improvement could not be achieved without doping

It’s unprecedented for someone to go from 3:14 to 2:19 and an American record in the marathon in less than five years. And even though she has never been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, there have been small pockets of skeptics who argue D’Amato’s improvements could not possibly have been achieved naturally. We asked how those doubts make her feel and how she would respond to them.

“My first reaction is it hurts a little bit, but also, I kind of understand because there have been some standout athletes that have broke our hearts a little bit with that,” D’Amato said. “So I understand where that’s coming from, but I try to detach myself from that because they don’t know me. They don’t know who I am. Anyone that knows me and sees how hard I’m working and the kind of person I am knows that I’m a clean athlete and what I represent. So I try to dismiss it, but it does hurt a little bit. It feels like they’re discrediting all of the work that I’ve done.

And I feel like I’ve been real transparent with my training. You know, I’ve been on Strava since, I don’t know, 2016 when I was just trying to run and just get that one kudos from my husband, just say, hey look what I did today, I ran three whole miles, you know? And so it’s all been up there. So I think that if anybody’s curious about my training, I’ve been real transparent. I think I was one of the first like elite runners to really put everything up there. So, you know, it hurts, I guess.

“I don’t really know what else to say. I’ve been tested, I think in the last month or maybe six weeks, I think at least four times. So, you know, I’m doing everything to comply. I’m following all the rules, but I also, I don’t know. I really don’t think there’s anything I can say right now that is going to change anyone’s mind.”

5) D’Amato’s acknowledgment that runners in 2022 have more advantages than they did 15 years ago

© 2022 Kevin Morris

D’Amato made no secret of the fact that modern runners have advantages that athletes like Kastor did not possess — just as Kastor had advantages that Benoit Samuelson did not, and just as whoever holds the record 15 years from now will have advantages over D’Amato.

“Technology has advanced so much since Deena was running,” D’Amato said. “I mean the shoe technology alone, I’m in a better position right now with the shoes and everything that Nike has created. And then that’s only one piece of the puzzle. The nutrition that I used along the course wasn’t available, the recovery tools — I have a pair of NormaTec boots that I put on all the time, I don’t think those were around. So I think I have a lot of resources that women before me didn’t which I feel really fortunate and hopefully I use to my advantage.”

6) Kastor & D’Amato shared their hardest workouts ever (& D’Amato did an extra rep just to prove a point)

LetsRun visitor Page Lester wanted to know what was the hardest workout D’Amato had ever done. So we asked her. D’Amato’s answer reminded us of Quenton Cassidy‘s legendary 60 x 400 workout from Once a Runner.

“This wasn’t the most physically hard workout, but one day [my coach Scott] Raczko was like, okay, you have 40 x 200,” D’Amato said. “And I was like, are you mad at me? Why would you make me do that? What did I do? And I’m trying to think if I did something and I was being punished, but I’m out there at the track.

“And this one, I was just totally by myself. And just mentally trying to keep track of 40 of anything, it’s just really exhausting. And I remember some crows were flying by. That one was a weird workout, and the funny part about it was I got to 40 and I was like, I’m going to do one more. I’m going to do 41 and I’m going to stick it to Scott Raczko. So when I send my splits in, he’s going to see that I did 41.

“So I sent him the splits and he didn’t even notice. And I was like, hey, did you count how many I did just to make sure? He’s like, no, no, no, I trust you, you did a good job. That one made me feel really tough for some reason. But I think recently one of the hardest workouts I did, it was a 24-mile run with a 14-mile tempo. And the point of that one was to start in the 5:30s (per mile) and just break it down to sub-5:18 pace. That was a workout that really clicked, but that was a pretty, pretty tough one too. It was just a long time to be running.”

(You can see the second workout on Strava here).

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We also asked Kastor for her toughest session and she responded with a workout she would run alongside fellow American legend Meb Keflezighi in Mammoth Lakes.

“When Meb and I were getting ready for the 2004 Olympics, we did 4-5 x 2-mile repeats at 9,000 feet altitude,” Kastor said. “And I’ve always been a good responder at altitude, but bringing our workouts up to that elevation was a pain that I had never experienced before. And we did that every other week for about three months. So that was, that was a hurt locker for me.

“There’s a cheater trail around the lake, so I would take the cheater trail while Meb stuck to the road. So even though we started at the same time, I would always come out on the road right ahead of him. And I would give him little catch-me-if-you-can [gestures] and start charging up the hill, there’s a big hill in it. And more often than not, he would catch me, but it was always a fun banter back and forth when we were in that workout together.”

You can watch LetsRun’s full conversation with Keira D’Amato and Deena Kastor below.