At age 37, Keira D’Amato is only getting better.
D’Amato, who will run the Faxon Law New Haven 20K national championship road race Monday, broke the long-standing American women’s marathon record in May. She finished second at the Manchester Road Race last November, breaking the course record behind Weini Kelati, who won the race and broke the record by over a minute. She won the Falmouth Road Race in August.
The New Haven 20K, which starts at 8:30 a.m. Monday on the New Haven Green, will be a prep race for D’Amato leading up to the Berlin Marathon Sept. 25.
Not that 37 is old. Sara Hall, who broke the American half marathon record in January, is 39. But D’Amato, who was an All-American at American University (graduating in 2006) took years off from the sport after becoming injured. She started a family and worked full time before getting back into running at a high level again about five years ago.
“I look at a lot of competitors and I find things they do pretty cool to see,” said Emily Sisson, who broke Hall’s half marathon record in May and who will be racing the 20K Monday. “It is cool to see there are a lot of women in the sport that are having careers in their mid-to-late 30s and after having children as well.”
Sisson is 30; she finished second at New Haven in 2016 to Aliphine Tuliamuk, who was supposed to run Monday but scratched due to an injury. Sisson is training for the Oct. 11 Chicago Marathon.
“It’s always fun to have something to look forward to when you’re putting in so many miles,” Sisson said. “I think it will be a good race.”
Said D’Amato: “I’m looking for a long hard effort. I go into every race just totally going for it. I’m going to put it all out there.”
The American women’s marathon record, 2:19:36 set by Deena Kastor in 2006, seemed untouchable. Many great runners came and went through 16 years the record stood and couldn’t break it.
Until D’Amato, who lives in Midlothian, Va., with her husband Anthony and two children, came along. Her first marathon would not be an indication of her future. She ran 3:49 at the Missoula Marathon in 2013 – inspired in the aftermath of the 2012 Boston Marathon bombing - and didn’t train as much as she should have. Her goal was 3:20; she ended up jogging and walking at the end of the race while also visiting all the aid stations and eating gummy bears to boost her energy.
“I bonked so hard,” she said. “That race humbled me to really take marathoning seriously. It took a race like that to learn I am never going in underprepared for a marathon. But I also know how bad a marathon can turn and feel so that’s allowed me to be a little bit more patient while racing because I don’t ever want it to get to that point again. That was a dark spot.
“It was fun finishing that day. I was proud I kept going. And probably the amount of gummy bears I consumed while running a marathon is some sort of record out there.”
She was happy she finished. But she also thought that day, she said, that clearly, she was not a marathoner.
“It’s kind of amazing I found the courage to try again,” she said. “And again and again.”
In 2017, she ran the Richmond Marathon in 2:47, two minutes off the Olympic Trials qualifying time.
“I think that’s when the fire started,” she said. “All before then, it was just really training. After that I got a lot more intentional. That race just felt magical.”
She trained through 2020 when the racing world shut down due to COVID-19. In December, a marathon was staged in Arizona for elite athletes called “The Marathon Project.” Hall won in 2:20:32, just off the record; D’Amato finished second in 2:22:26, cutting 12 minutes off her personal best.
In 2021, she staged a 10-mile race on a certified course and broke the American record (51:23). Last November, in Manchester, only four women have run under 24 minutes in the race’s history – Canadian Emelie Mondor (23:59, 2003), Buze Diriba of Ethiopia (23:57, 2017), Kelati (22:55, 2021) and D’Amat0 (23:49, 2021). Kelati was 24 at the time.
“I knew starting on this journey I wanted to see what there was,” D’Amato said. “I knew I had so much more potential and I knew there were a lot of good things ahead. It was a long time coming. My daughter just turned six and I started training after I had her. It was a slow build for sure.
“I thought I’d have a breakout year a year or two before I had a breakout year. If I kept being patient and putting the time in – finally we’ve been seeing what we’ve been working so hard for.
“Patience is definitely not in my vocabulary, but I’ve learned the secret to running is patience.”
Lori Riley can be reached at email@example.com.