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January 19, 2022

Making Sense of Keira D’Amato’s American Women’s Marathon Record

2:19:12 — Isn’t it satisfying when the finish line clock matches the time the athlete actually ran? Keira D’Amato never hid the fact that she’d be attempting to break the American Record in Houston. And in Ruth-like fashion, she called her shot. 

By now, most of us have heard the inspirational tale of D’Amato’s ascent: after a decade away from the sport, the now-37-year-old mother of two and full-time realtor fell back in love with the sport, started running faster and faster times, and as of this past weekend, eclipsed a mark that evaded a generation of all-time great athletes.

Deena Kastor’s 2:19:36 victory at the 2006 London Marathon sits atop the pyramid among the greatest American performances of all-time but even Kastor didn’t expect her mark to last 15 years. So why did it?

The most likely candidate to have broken it has to have been Shalane Flanagan. Since making her debut in 2010, Shalane competed in twelve marathons during her professional career (not including the post-retirement Majors tour). Drawn by the prestige of winning on home soil — and likely handsome paydays — seven of those races were either in New York or Boston. Both courses are notoriously difficult, due to big hills, variable weather, and the absence of pacemakers. Another four of Shalane’s marathons were run at championships, either in the Trials or the Olympics. And so the only legitimate attempt in her career to rip a fast one came in 2014 at Berlin, where she ultimately finished 3rd in 2:21:14. Flanagan admittedly did try that day, leading the race through halfway in 1:09:38 — but she only really tried once.

Historians would have pegged Amy Cragg as another contender for the crown, especially following her 2017 World Championship bronze medal. But similar to Flanagan, she only ran one, maybe two marathons a year and the majority were either championships or held on harder domestic courses. Cragg’s best time came from Tokyo in 2018 where she ran 2:21:42 for 3rd, which remains her personal best by over five minutes.

Of course, how can you forget about Des Linden? Although she ran 2:22:38, there’s a small asterisk next to that because it was run on the Boston course, which is not record-eligible due to being point to point and net-downhill (but still plenty uphill!). But it isn’t surprising this was her fastest time when you remember that of her 21 career marathons, 11 were either in Boston or New York and 7 more were at championships.

(Keira talks about past attempts on the American record and why her’s was different than some of the aforementioned women at the 5:39 mark of the latest CITIUS MAG Podcast episode)

Then there is a list of younger athletes who are still competing, many of whom newsletter pundits might consider as potential American Record holders. There hasn’t been a 31st birthday shared between the likes of Molly Seidel, Emma Bates, Jordan Hasay or Emily Sisson. On the opposite end of the experience spectrum — and if we’ve learned anything recently — when it comes to Sally Kipyego, Molly Huddle and Aliphine Tuliamuk, motherhood won’t necessarily slow them down either. 

All this is not meant to detract from Keira’s accomplishment by saying there haven’t been many attempts — it’s to celebrate it. That’s because she was bold enough to do something most others wouldn’t. After finishing a fall marathon, the majority of athletes take a couple of weeks off before entering into another base phase. Maybe there’d be consideration about another marathon six months later — if the appearance fee is right. But following her fourth place finish in Chicago, Keira and her coach, Scott Rackzo, rolled right into training and racing (Richmond 8k, Manchester, USA Half). With her fitness mounting, D’Amato stepped up to the plate and pointed two fingers towards center field — there were no medals on the line and it wasn’t a World Marathon Major, but she swung for the fences. What a nice reward for betting on herself.

You may have noticed someone missing from our earlier discussion — the new American Record holder for the half marathon! Fifteen years after her husband and coach, Ryan, broke the still standing men’s record, Sara Hall cruised to a 67:15 in Houston to knock 10 seconds off Molly Huddle’s previous mark from 2018.

Much like D’Amato, Hall deserves a ton of praise for her consistent willingness to target records and race constantly. On two occasions she went after this record in solo attempts on the Row River bike path in Oregon, which is where her previous best time of 68:18 was from. In what is truly an unbelievable stat, guess how many times Sara Hall has competed in a race of 20 kilometers or more since 2014.

Think of a number…

Lock it in?

51.

Conservative coaches everywhere are picking their jaws up from off their yellow legal pads in awe. Needless to say, Sara Hall deserves this record. But part of what made this day so much quicker than previous attempts is that it was an actual race.

At the front was Kenya’s Vicoty Chepngeno, who blasted a 65:03 for the fastest time ever run on American soil and a 2+ minute personal best. She was so far ahead of the field that the broadcast crew lost her and wasn’t prepared for her finish. But behind Chepngeno and with Hall was another pack of breakout performances. In third place was the Boss Babe, Dom Scott (67:32), who ran a 3 minute personal best in her second half ever, good for the second-fastest ever by a South African. And in fourth was Puma’s Fiona O’Keeffe (67:42), whose debut was the fastest ever by an American.

If there’s one trend worth rooting for in addition to these fast times, it’s that the eagerness to line up with regularity is inherited by the next crop of stars.

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