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This week’s conversation is with Keira D’Amato, a full-time realtor, mother of two, and one of the most elite female long-distance runners in the United States.

Keira’s running career took off in college where she became a four-time All-American Track athlete at American University. However, just a couple years after graduating, she underwent a major ankle surgery which put a quick – and heartbreaking – end to her post-collegiate running career.

Eight years later, Keira started chasing down some “unfinished business” and went on to set the American Women’s Record in the Marathon (2:19:12), the World Record in the Women’s Only 10 Mile Run (51:23), and was selected to Team USA for the World Half Marathon Championships in 2020 & 2022… all while juggling the responsibilities of raising two kids and a career as a full-time realtor.

Keira is epic and this conversation is about so much more than her career as an athlete – it’s about pain, purpose, re-discovery, and having the courage to go for that thing you’ve always wanted… even when it seems like it’s too late.

“I’m focused on the process and what can I do every day, every week, every month to improve, to get better. I have a lot of long term goals, but it’s more about that day to day – having fun with it and leaning into what excites me.”

In This Episode:

Taking an untraditional path

I always tell people, in the marathon a lot can happen in 26.2 miles so even the weather, if the weather’s not good enough for that day, that can really throw a performance off. So, I have no idea and I also have no idea why it was me because I’ve taken a very non-traditional path to get here. I competed in high school and college and a little bit post-collegiately, but then I took like an eight year break. I call it my halftime show, a little bit of elaborate halftime show. And then I came back with a very new perspective and a very different attitude than I had in my round one.

Falling short

Running was my everything. I went to college to run, I competed afterwards, and then I was pushed away, out of the sport, kind of not really on my own, by my own choice. And so like you said, I just sat there wondering, ‘what if’ and I thought I would never do it again. So I said goodbye to all those goals, I mourned those goals. I was so confident that I would hit these goals and then I was wrong and that was the toughest thing to understand like, “How was I so wrong?” I really thought I could have done this or I could have done that and I fell short of those goals.

Focus on the process, not the outcome

In my early days I was absolutely focused on the outcome. If I ran fast, then I’d get a sponsorship or if I ran fast, then I can win nationals. I was so focused on where I was going and what that was, and that was so much pressure that I kind of didn’t handle it correctly and this time it’s totally backwards. I’m not focused on the outcome, I’m focused on the process and what can I do every day, every week, every month to improve, to get better. I have a lot of long term goals, but it’s more about that day to day – having fun with it and leaning into what excites me. That has really freed me from that pressure.

Get good at failing

I’ve already tried and failed so many times. I came up short in my first round. So this time I’m not afraid of failing, because I’ve already failed before and it’s really not that bad. I’ve learned and I grew and I moved on and so this time I feel so free of that, that maybe it will work out, maybe it won’t, but if it does then wow, awesome. And if it doesn’t work out, well, I’ve been there before and I’m okay, that’s fine.

“Dipsticks”

It’s funny because for me a race is just like a dipstick of a point, it’s just one way to tell your fitness. So I’ve gone into races and I’ve come up short of my goal and I’ve walked away being like, “Well, I didn’t show it in that race, but I know I’m better than that.” So I’m real quickly to write off, to learn what I need to learn and move forward with that. So the first time I think I ran 2:34, I thought I was in shape to run two 20:30, my time said 2:34, but I walked away from that race thinking I was a 2:30 marathoner. I know the work was there, I’m a 2:30 marathoner. So the next time I went to race, I was running for 2:26. I ran 2:34 again, but I knew I was a 2:26 marathoner. And the conditions were crazy, it was a hilly course, and so the next time I went up to run 2:22 and I ran 2:22 and that was an easy jump going from a 2:26 to a 2:22 but everyone was freaking out that a 2:34 marathoner went to a 2:22. So, I haven’t let races define me, which I think has really helped. And I don’t know if it’s just a crazy ego or, or what it is just a weird confidence, but I’ve been able to, even when I fail, move forward like I succeeded that day.

Why did she leave running in the first place?

I feel like I didn’t have what it took. And I also, at the time running was not enough for me. I was Keira, the runner my whole life and my whole life I was just a runner and it took me leaving running to realize it’s just running and Keira is so much more than that. And I think with that perspective, I’m able to sit here as the American record holder, because I’ve learned that Keira so much more than that which was really fun. It was a weird phase of my life, but it as really fun to see what else Keira is.

Is it ever too late to pursue a passion?

I think I’m living proof that it isn’t. I’m in a sport where I’m competing against women that I could probably be their mom, I’m on definitely on the older side but I’ve… I don’t know. I didn’t come back thinking I was going to be where I am, I came back to be my best version of myself. I had no idea I could be the best version of myself ever but to me it took erasing all of my record boards and all of my previous goals and just going head first into it to discover what’s left. So I think that for me, that felt like an excuse for a while when I wasn’t chasing my potential in running, because it’s always been with me. So I guess hearing you say that, it feels like a little bit of an excuse and we’re all so busy and we’re all tired from our jobs and everything else going in our life so it almost feels like a little bit of an excuse to say that time has passed because, I don’t know, I think there’s ways to find enjoyment or to be able to pursue those loves even with a busy work schedule or busy family schedule.

Finding true comfort in running

I don’t think I was depressed, but it was a really tough time for a while. . I’d get a babysitter down the street or my mother-in-law would come over and I felt really guilty taking that time to myself, but I just needed a little space. And then I was doing something that I was feeling really good about and I was really proud that I was running and I could run like three full miles or 10 full miles. And especially when they were young, getting the babysitter, it wasn’t like, “I need 20 minutes.” I’d be like, “Listen, I need two hours.” And if I need to be out running for two hours to get that two hours for myself right now, that’s what I was going to do. So in running, it was really soothing. I could listen to whatever I want. I was listening to your podcast, I could listen to music or just… I didn’t have people on me at that time, I just had a little space in a really chaotic life.

Does anxiety ever creep in?

For me, I fill my life with things so I don’t have to think and overanalyze. So I’m so busy now that I don’t have time to be anxious, so whenever I find myself being anxious, I just do something and I just stop thinking about it. So yeah, I don’t know. So, I am an anxious person, I do tend to worry and overthink things and I’m an obsessive planner, but I know that about myself so leading into a race, I try to have really low key things that keep me busy so I’m not thinking about a race and nervous energy and everything.

Pure happiness and finding freedom

I’m just happy. I’m really happy with my life and I’m really proud of who I am and what I have done. And I know I’m not always going to succeed, I’m going to fail and I’m okay because I know that’s the place to learn. And I don’t know, like with anything that happens in running, no matter if I win or I lose, I come home and life is exactly the same. My kids are like, “Mom, can you get us some orange juice?” And that makes me really happy. In this whole running thing, I’ve structured in a way that’s been really fun for me. And I think for a while I hid behind, “This is fun,” to hold off the pressure and to keep off any goals and I’d show up to a race, I’d have a goal that I want to run, but also I’m here to have fun. And then whether I hit the goal or not, did I have fun? Hell, yeah I had fun. That was awesome. So, I think I hid behind that for a while and I put running in my life and that needed to be my fun thing. And I think just leaning in to that has allowed me to be really free.

Control what you can control

The things that are out of my control, I’m not going to lose sleep over that. Like the weather going into any race day, I know a lot of people are checking the weather, asking me what the weather’s going to be. I’m like, “Listen, I’m going to race that day and I’ll come prepared for anything. I’ll figure out what I need to wear and how I need to hydrate, I’ll figure out what I need to do, but I’m not going to stress over that because I can’t control that.”

What’s next?

I alternate between marathon training and speed training. And I think that’s something that’s a little bit unique, but I work really hard to bring my mile 5k, 10k times down before I get into a marathon base. So then running five fifteens is going to feel easy when I can do mile repeats at 4:40. So, I’m in nice speed training right now and so I’ll have some shorter races, which are a little bit out of my comfort zone, but it’s kind of fun because I feel like I’m playing around because it’s not “my distance”. And then I’ll do a fall marathon. And then everything I’m doing really is gearing up for 2024 Olympics. I’m not an Olympian and I’d like to be, so let’s see if I can get there.

Commitment to being her best

I’m just trying to find my best every day. I have no idea when I’m going to start slowing down and when my age is really going to keep up with me and I know there’s going to be a time where I’m not going to be able to run as fast as I did yesterday and that’s okay, because I’m going to run as fast as I can every single day. So I think that when that time comes I’ll set new goals and I’ll have new records and new things to chase… to be your best, you don’t need to be on every single day. And I think for me, I know enough in running that I can’t race every single run so sometimes to be my best, it’s taking a day off, sometimes to be my best I’m out on a run and everything sucks, I just stop and walk home. Like I walk up hill sometimes even now and that’s okay, because that’s my best that day.

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