Keira D’Amato On Becoming A National Champion at 37, New OTQ Standard

More Than Running

December 9, 2021

This past weekend, Keira D’Amato won the USATF Half Marathon Championships in Hardeeville, South Carolina in 1:07:55 to claim her first national title. This was her third race since finishing fourth at the Chicago Marathon in 2:28:22 in October. In the latest episode of “More Than Running with Dana”, she discusses the 25-year journey to her first national title, the emotion behind it and the importance of her family’s support in her pursuit.

The interview also comes just days after USATF announced the changes to the 2024 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying standards, where the women’s mark changed from 2:45:00 to 2:37:00. If you go back to Feb. 2020, D’Amato’s 2:34:24 for 15th place in Atlanta was one of the most notable breakouts. She went on to become the eighth-fastest American female marathoner in history with a 2:22:56 at The Marathon Project last December. Way before those accomplishments, she was someone who was motivated by chasing the Trials standard. What if it had been 2:37:00? She shares her initial thoughts and feelings regarding the change within the episode as well.

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I’ve transcribed a few parts of the interview below, which have been edited lightly for clarity.

On winning her first national title:

“The legs are feelin’ good! That’s all I have to say about that. I am still on a high. Everything that happened Sunday, I was just going through the motions. When I sat down and had a little quiet time to myself this week, I’ve been really emotional about it. I didn’t realize I would get this emotional about it. This has been a goal of mine for probably 25 years and I’m not exaggerating on that. In high school, I finished ninth at the Footlocker Cross Country Regionals at the time so I missed out on even making it to nationals and that was heartbreaking. In college, I finally did qualify and the highest I finished was sixth – which I was really proud of but still, it felt like there was so much unfinished business. Coming out of college, I tried running for a little bit and got injured. Then I gave up on myself. I let go of that dream and I forgave myself for not hitting those dreams. Then, I gave myself permission to try again and to dream of that again. To be able to come here – I’m just getting so emotional – what a ride. I’m just so happy and proud of myself that I allowed myself to give it another shot to see what I can do. To finally win this 25-year-old-plus goal of mine is just really emotional for me to think about.”

What was the first step toward her comeback and aiming for the highest level of the sport again:

“It didn’t happen overnight. There are multiple moments when I think back on it where I gave myself permission to put in a little bit more or to take up a little bit more time to be a bit more intentional. It all started out with a gag Christmas gift to my husband. I gave him a marathon entry, which is such a backhanded gift. It’s nice to get a race entry but he doesn’t want to train for a marathon. To have three months to train for a marathon is definitely more of a prank gift. Then, I felt really guilty about that so I said I’d run it with him even though I had a four-month-old baby at the time. We started training and he was so much faster than me. We didn’t care and just started running together. So I jumped into the St. Patrick’s Day Virginia Beach Marathon. I ran 3:14 and I was like, ‘Oh, wow!’ I was on “The root beer float training plan.” which meant that if I ran 10 miles that day, I got a root beer float at night. That was seriously my training plan. So maybe if I was more intentional, I’d be faster.

I did the Richmond Marathon later that year and ran 2:47. That’s when everything was like, ‘Woah! I’m two minutes off that OTQ time.’ I reached out to my coach who had coached me after college, Scott Raszko, and I was like, ‘Can you help me get intentional?’ He asked, ‘Are you going to listen?’ And I said, ‘Probably not all the time!.’ That’s when it started getting real. When I ran the 2:44 to qualify, I realized it’s not good enough to just make it to the Trials. I want to show up and compete. So then, it took it to a whole new level. Once I got that qualifying time, I got super intentional and really focused. I went all-out training for that.

What’s next?

“I haven’t announced it yet but I’m more than happy to share it. I plan on doing the Houston Marathon.”

Do you have a big goal?

“I have a lot of goals – definitely to win. I’ve never won a big marathon like that or really any marathon. I think I’m fitter than I was last year when I ran 2:22 so I would like to PR. I think it’s going to be a really great race. I’m really excited about the way things have come along. We knew going into Chicago that was really early on in a training cycle so I didn’t have a full build-up and coming off of three or four months that I was injured. We knew that was premature for a race. After that, we were going to see how I recovered and then see how the rest of the season would go. If things didn’t go too well and I didn’t recover, we probably would’ve just shut it down. I recovered really quickly from that and was able to get back into training. For every single race of my professional career, I really don’t know the pace I’m going to go until like that week so we’re going to get through another training cycle…So I’m excited to see where I’ll be come January but I think it’s going to be pretty good.”

The U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials standard was changed from 2:45 to 2:37, which is a substantial jump. As someone who had their career reinvigorated by the Marathon Trials, did you have any initial thoughts and feelings about the change?

“It felt like a gut punch to be brutally honest when I first heard that. I 100% see both sides of this and I understand the feasibility of a city hosting an event of this caliber why financially it’s really tough to put it on like the Atlanta Track Club did. They did an amazing job with it. I understand that aspect of it.

My husband and I had a really long talk about this. He just asked me, “Do you think you’d be where you are now if the time for 2020 was 2:37?” We talked about it for a long time. I think if I finished the marathon where I ran 2:47 and I was two minutes off and that to me felt achievable to go and then I started training really hard. I think if that time was 2:37, I don’t think I would’ve had the confidence or the drive. That carrot would’ve felt way too far away from me. So I don’t know if I’d be where I am right now.

That gets me feeling really emotional that some women may feel a little let down with that being a little further away now. I also feel really encouraged that as women we rise up and we find ways. Somehow, over the past two or three years for me, I didn’t even know if 2:45 was possible and now I’m talking about Houston where I want to run a PR, which is a sub-2:22.

It blows my mind that I achieved so much. I hope that if anyone can take anything from my story, it’s that 2:37 or 2:45, it’s possible. Be patient. Give yourself time. We have a couple of years now to qualify to slowly build up. Nothing happens overnight. I really hope that we U.S. women can rise up and fill the field again because it was a really electric feeling having so many people work so hard to qualify and be part of such a special, monumental day.

I see both sides but emotionally, it just gets me. I can’t tell if I’d be here if it was a little more aggressive. But then I also from USATF’s stance, it’s the Olympic Trials. They’re selecting an Olympic team…I understand both sides of the equation but I just hope that those people who were aiming for 2:55 feel the courage to go for 2:37 too. I think that so many women are going to surprise themselves with what they can do.”