by George Banker
Editor’s Note: George met Keira D’Amato a few years ago through the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler where Keira manages the Expo clinics, does some athlete hospitality functions, and announces the kids runs. George is involved with the Army Ten Miler and invited her to run the event. They have stayed in touch ever since.
Last year Keira ran a 2:34:55 at the 2019 Berlin Marathon (a personal best) to qualify to compete in the US Olympic Marathon Trials, and 1:10:01 at the 2020 Houston Half Marathon. She finished well in the marathon trials, in 15th place with a 2:34:24, improving on her personal best even though the Atlanta course was much more difficult than the Berlin course, and the weather was cold and windy!
George recently interviewed Keira by email, after she had time to reflect on her experience.
He states that Keira has a personal outlook going from a wide angle to a laser focus, always with something challenging in front of her. He says it takes a special person to achieve success, and D’Amato has practiced doing what is challenging to reach goals beyond her previous reach. (George’s questions are bolded.)
What is your philosophy when it comes to running?
My philosophy when it comes to running is the name of the game—F.U.N. This isn’t rocket science and we aren’t saving lives; we are finding a healthy way to test our limits and work through “fun” mental and physical challenges. During and right after running, it’s normal to feel terrible, but overall, if you are doing it right, it can add a special inner peace to your life. Running is a gift; I feel truly lucky to have the time/energy/health/support to do it, because it brings me a lot of joy.
When Keira laces up her shoes who does she become?
This is a tough question for me. My first reaction is that this Keira isn’t too far off from everyday Keira. I’m competitive in most aspects of my life. I’m also assertive, determined, and confident . . . the same skills I use in Real Estate or used when I was a student. I hold myself to high standards in general, and it doesn’t change much when I lace up my shoes.
The thing that does change though is I feel very free. For the next 90 minutes (or however long) while running, I can think about whatever I want and put the rest of life on a brief pause. That being said, I always run with my phone, so I’ll always stop to pick up a real estate call or family emergency, etc. But in general, everything pauses and it’s just me for a while. I find a lot of peace in that. I love my life; it’s perfect, but I value that quiet, alone time to sort through my thoughts or to simply be thoughtless. When I’m running – I’m not rushing, I’m not waiting in traffic – I’m just running. It’s a nice feeling.
What was your motivation to seek a U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials Qualifier?
It had to slap me across the face to get my attention. After having two kids, I was out of shape and the first and only marathon I had done at that point was in 3:49:49 (2013 Missoula Marathon) where I discovered around mile sixteen that I wasn’t a marathon runner and walked the rest of the way. But I did want to lose the baby weight, so I started running and found a lot of freedom in the long, slow distance runs. Then my husband deployed and I had a lot of lonely time on my hands and filled it with the distance runs. The more I ran, the longer and faster the runs got. Then I started having fun with pick-ups and showing up to local races, and then that racing bug came back.
So, I decided to rewrite my marathon past and see if I could qualify for the Boston Marathon by running under 3:35. My goal was just to run under 3:35 and I ran 3:14 (2017 Shamrock VA Beach). It felt so easy. I couldn’t run slowly enough that day to be on 3:35 pace. Then I thought, well, what if I didn’t hold back so much. Could I break 3? No way, I couldn’t break 3? Or could I?
I registered for the Richmond Marathon in 2017 with the sole goal of breaking 3 hours. I gave myself 50-50 odds I could break 3 that day. My husband saw I went out around 2:55 pace and bet my mother-in-law $100 I was going to either blow up or drop out. (FYI, at this point in my life I’ve never dropped out of a race.) I ran 2:47:00 that day with a huge negative split. It was after that race being 2 minutes off that I thought, well, I might as well see if I can drop 2 more minutes and make my first U.S. Olympic Trials. Why not, right?!?
What were the mental adjustments you had to make during the journey to achieve the qualifier?
I don’t think I made any major mental adjustments to hit the qualifier. I kept my attitude that this was a fun challenge. The largest mental adjustments came after I had the qualifier. I wanted to frame my expectations from, “I’m just happy to be here,” to “I’m here to compete,” and that’s where the mental and physical work came in.
Around this time, I asked my previous coach, Scott Raczko, to coach me full time. We added more structure into my training, more volume, strength work, and intentional, tailored workouts. Pretty much every week when he sent me a workout, I’d laugh because, “Uh, I can’t do that, who does he think I am?” But I trusted him, so I always told myself, “Go for it.” His times were spot on. After each workout I would think, “Wow, that was so much better than last week. That was the best workout of my life.” That’s a really powerful thought.
Were there any emotional periods during your build up?
I found myself more emotional every 3rd week of my training cycle where my volume was way up; I was physically exhausted. I’d warn my husband at the start of those weeks, “This week I’ll be around 125 miles. I’m sorry in advance for having less patience and not being able to troubleshoot properly . . . and there’s going to be a lot of take out dinner . . . and the laundry may pile up . . .”
How did you balance your life during the training period (family, work, training)?
I’ve felt a lot of internal pressure to succeed in my career and stay on top of my responsibilities at home while I’ve been training. I’ve been so afraid that if stuff starts to fall apart at the house or if I’m not kicking butt as a realtor, my family would think running is taking up too much time and I would need to adjust everything – aka, not run as much.
My priorities are clear: 1. Family 2. Real Estate 3. Running. I’d never miss an open house or a real estate deadline for a run, but I would get up at 4 AM to get in a run so I don’t have to choose.
It makes me feel less guilty to go out for a long run when I know there are groceries in the house, laundry is folded, kids are happy, and I sold a house last week. These are all internal pressures, but I don’t want to put so much added stress on my family that they want me to stop running.
How did you handle the days when the workout did not go as planned?
You’ve got to get over it, quickly. Analyze what went wrong so you don’t make the same mistake again and then move on. One workout or one race doesn’t define your fitness. I’m quick to say, “Wow, that sucked. That’s not like me to suck that bad.”
The more important thing here is when you are feeling like a workout is starting to go downhill, being able to say, “Nope, I’m not going to have a bad workout today, I can finish this strong.” Sometimes just telling that voice ‘no’ and pushing through can turn a “bad” workout into a “that started rough, but I really pulled it together; I’m proud of myself.”
But then also, if you are feeling sick, injured, or it’s 50 mph winds, you need to adjust your expectations.
As February 29, 2020 came closer what were your thoughts about 3 days out?
I felt very content with where I was. Training went great, my health was perfect, I was mastering “the taper,” and overall, just really excited. I felt like things were “busy enough” at home and with real estate to keep my mind occupied and not overstress about anything. I do better with an occupied mind.
I was fairly confident Saturday was going to go well for me. The work was there.
What strategy did you have planned for race morning?
I tried my best to downplay the enormity of the event and treat it like a workout. I had been nailing all of my workouts during the training cycle, so why change anything? It was just another workout, only with thousands of people cheering.
My coach gave me a pace range for what I should try to hit each mile and that was my plan. To run my own race – we figured that might put me in the lead pack – or possibly alone, but that didn’t matter too much. Just run as fast as I could that day.
What changes did you make once you found out the weather report?
Once we saw the wind reports, we figured I would need to try to draft more and tuck in a little better. I also decided on sunglasses rather than a hat because that would just blow away.
I had no idea how tough the wind would be, I felt like I didn’t properly prepare for that kind of wind! Once I fell off the lead pack, it felt like I entered a wind tunnel. After the race, it wasn’t the hills I was remembering, it was the wind! I feel like the wind really got the best of me that day.
Can you recall the final 10 minutes as you were on the start line?
Vividly. I warmed up with a friend from the DC area, Bethany Sachtelben. I really love and appreciate her company; she’s a remarkable person and extremely funny. We were both just looking around at the spectacle of it all. Then we looked up and noticed a neon yellow sign that read “Go Keira Go.” My uncle’s signs were the best, no question!
I was looking around thinking, “These girls may not know who I am, but I’m going to try to beat as many as I can… ideally all of them.” I felt like I had a secret. No one knew how fit I was or even my name, but I honestly felt like I could set a big PR on that course. At the same time, I was thinking, “This is hysterical. What am I doing here?!? I’m not a pro runner; this is my fun hobby. How am I so lucky to be standing on the starting line right now?!?”
Then I thought, “This is a workout. This is a workout. This is a workout.” Then the gun . . .
What were your thoughts at mile 10 (57:04)?
This feels easy . . . I feel relaxed . . . this is going perfectly.
Mile 13.1 (1:14:09)?
This is where I started getting uncomfortable and I started to question everything. This is where the race started to blow up for me and I’m a little disappointed how I reacted in that moment. I starting thinking “Ok, this is slightly faster than the pace I wanted to run right now . . . maybe I could pull it back a little and conserve energy, and then pick off anyone that falls of that pack.” I immediately realized this was a terrible idea when I backed off that pack and felt the wind. I was so frustrated and embarrassed in that moment. Why did I do that? Where’d my confidence go? Why am I letting myself run alone now? Damnit.
I tried to catch back up to the pack and it felt like I was moving backwards into the wind. Soon after the legs started getting all “noodle-y” and I think all the downhill pounding starting taking its toll.
Mile 20 (1:55:46)?
Oh. My. Gosh. We still have 6 miles of this slug fest? This is horrible, I feel terrible. This wind won’t let up . . . but why isn’t anyone catching me? I feel like the wheels are coming off and I’m slowing down, but no one is catching me . . . this is so weird. I thought I would be eaten alive at this point. Just finish, Keira, just finish. Who knows what will happen . . . just finish. You are not a quitter, finish this race as hard as you can and you’ll never have to run another marathon in your life.
What were your thoughts when you crossed the finish line and how did you feel?
When I saw the finish line, I got emotional. I made it! I effing made it. How in the world did I finish this race today? I got so excited I started pumping my fists and “flying” with my arms down the straightaway. I’m sure spectators were like, “Umm, she knows she didn’t win, right? Someone should tell her she is 12 places off the team . . . someone’s gotta tell her.” I didn’t care though. I was so proud of my journey, how hard I worked to get there, and that I was finishing on a day where I wanted so badly to quit.
My first thought after I finished was, I can’t breathe. That was ridiculous, I’m never running a marathon ever again. I’m not a marathon runner, this isn’t for me. I need to do shorter distances.
My second thought was, I was 15th? I ran 2:34? I need to train harder, get stronger, get tougher. . . . so 14 women don’t beat me next time. I need to do another marathon to set the record straight and prove I can break 2:30.
Looking back over your running career, how do you top your recent performance?
I think a frustrating, yet disciplined part of my personality, is to immediately look onto the next thing. Whether I hit my goal or not, I think I can do better. Let’s get back to work. So, I answer this question with, “My best is yet to come.” I feel confident this performance will be topped . . . soon.
What do you want your children to know about their mother?
First, I love them infinitely. They know this already.
Second, I am lucky. I found my passion of running at a young age and I’ve received so much from it my whole life. It helped build my confidence as a young girl and created friendships I still have to this day. It gave me opportunities to go to school and to travel, and another reason to be excited to wake up every day. It taught me discipline, time management, and resilience. My wish for them is to find their passion and go for it. It’s a gift, it really is a gift to find that. I am so darn lucky.
What advice can you share with other females with aspirations to become better?
To start, the only person that needs to believe in you is yourself. It’s nice to have a fan club and a support crew, but you have to see it first. The others can be convinced.
Push away the mom guilt. It’s OK to do something for yourself. It’s a service to my kids to SHOW them things like setting goals, working hard, dealing with disappointment, prioritizing physical fitness/health, you name it. But you need to be flexible, and you may find yourself running at crazy times of the day or on a treadmill. Do what you need to do to make it fit. But make it fit.
Lastly, patience. Running is a slow, constant build, and you need to be healthy to keep at it. Build slowly. You don’t climb Everest in a day, but every step gets you closer to the top.
Categories: Athlete Profiles
Great article! And what an inspiring woman, athlete, mom. 👍🏃🏽♀️💜👍