When the country and sports world shut down in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Keira D’Amato’s first reaction was “running doesn’t have to.”
“Running is not canceled right now,” said D’Amato, a Midlothian resident and mother of two who last month broke the American women’s 10-mile record, her latest accomplishment in a successful and cherished 2020 campaign. “I need to be really safe about it, and I need to adjust and I need to pivot — everything changed. But I could still find a way to have running safely in my life.”
D’Amato in February finished 15th at the U.S. Olympic Women’s Marathon Trials, and in June ran 15:04 in a 5,000-meter time trial at a high school track. For women, the 2020 Olympic standard for the 5,000 meters is 15:10.
In July, she ran a personal-best 32:33 at a COVID-adjusted meet in Massachusetts. And in the fall, she set another personal record when she won the Michigan Pro Half Marathon in 1:08:57. A couple weeks later, D’Amato won the Sugar Run 5K Classic in Tennessee, where she ran a 15:08.
Despite scheduling challenges and adjustments, D’Amato has enjoyed a wildly successful 2020 campaign.
But around the time of the Marathon Trials, she began planning for the dream which, once the pandemic began, became the “light at the end of the tunnel” of her 2020 — a goal for her to work toward and focus on amid a mentally trying year — the American 10-mile record for a women’s-only race, previously set at 52:12 by Janet Bawcom at the 2014 Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run.
D’Amato is on the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run committee, and while emailing prospective runners early in the year, realized she was capable of challenging the record herself.
At the outset of the shutdown, D’Amato’s typical running schedule was altered as races were canceled left and right. She started searching for new goals to keep her motivated, and decided pursuing an American record would do just fine.
“I knew I’d wake up every morning at whatever time I needed to get in the miles to make it one step closer to an American record,” D’Amato said.
As a mother and full-time real estate agent, running is D’Amato’s outlet. This year, she’s particularly cherished her love for the sport as a means to staying motivated and on track during a time in which many are struggling with pandemic-induced anxiety.
“For mental health, to stay in a routine, to have goals, to have things to work toward, it was just so healthy for me to keep at it and to keep the pedal to the metal when it was just a really challenging time for everyone,” D’Amato said.
She broke the record on Nov. 24 at the Up Dawg Ten Miler, a COVID-adjusted race at Anacostia Park in Washington, D.C. D’Amato, 36, was one of five competitors. She ran a 51:23, breaking Bawcom’s mark by 49 seconds, an average of 5:08 per mile. Molly Seidel, who finished second at the Olympic Marathon Trials, also participated in the race.
D’Amato and members of the Cherry Blossom organizing committee used their own funds to stage the record attempt. The race’s name, Up Dawg, is a reference to a joke from the TV series ”The Office.”
Around the 8-mile mark, D’Amato checked her pace and realized she was about 40 seconds ahead of the record — she told herself to stay focused and keep it up.
Then around the 9 1/2-mile mark, she got a little lightheaded and dizzy, and her legs began to object to the journey. Her confidence was a little rocked, but she told herself she’d come too far to slack off now.
“But you just kind of calm yourself,” D’Amato said of her mindset during the final stretch toward the finish line.
“Like, ‘OK, I’m running 10 miles as fast as I can, this isn’t going to be easy.’ But when I could see the finish line, I just sprinted as fast as my legs could take me.”
D’Amato’s husband was holding one side of the banner at the finish line, her mother the other. Her family is an integral part of her running career, and D’Amato said she could never hope to accomplish as much as she has without their support.
She said the feeling of crossing the finish line, with her family enjoying a front-row seat to an accomplishment she’d worked so hard toward, was “surreal” and a “dream come true.” It’s a moment she ranks in the top five of her life, up there with her wedding and the birth of her children.
“It takes a village for me to be doing what I am, as a mom and a realtor, I need a lot of help,” D’Amato said. “And there’s a lot of my family that cares a lot about this dream for me. So that fact that we all had a win for Team D’Amato, it was a really cool moment for everyone.”
The Richmond running community, too, has been a key part of D’Amato’s success, she said. She’ll go on a run through her neighborhood and hear people yelling “You’re going to break that record, Keira!”
“It gives me so much motivation knowing that Richmond has my back, I feel like I’m a stronger runner for that,” D’Amato said.
“Thank you, Richmond, for all the support.”
D’Amato allows herself about 24 hours to enjoy an accomplishment before she starts looking toward the next goal on the horizon. This time, it’s making the Olympic track team for this summer’s Games in Tokyo.
“Representing the U.S., that would be pretty sweet,” she said.
D’Amato knows she can hit the 5K and 10K times necessary to receive an invite to the trials, where the top three finishers qualify for the Olympics.
The 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for track and field are set for June 18-27 in Eugene, Ore.