Training

Inside Lane: How Keira D’Amato Is Breaking All the Rules

Keira D’Amato shares the training and mentality that has led to Olympic-level time trials in the midst of quarantine as she aims toward 2021.

Keira D’Amato’s track career was supposed to be over more than a decade ago. 

But after marriage, two kids and building a successful career as a real estate agent, the 35-year-old Virginian is living her second life as an elite distance runner. After placing 15th at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February, she’s recently put the track world on notice by running elite-level time trials of 15:04 for 5K and 4:33 for the mile in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I feel like I found a quarter on the ground,” D’Amato says. “I get to play again. This isn’t supposed to happen, right? It’s my bonus life… I’m truly doing this for myself to get back at everything I didn’t accomplish the first time around.”

The Running Realtor

D’Amato was an All-American distance runner at American University under coach Matt Centrowitz, where her career highlight was placing sixth at the 2005 NCAA Cross Country Championships ahead of future Olympians Amy Cragg and Molly Huddle. She moved to northern Virginia after graduation to train with coach Scott Raczko, who famously guided Alan Webb to the American record and the U.S. high school record in the mile.

But a foot injury requiring surgery effectively ended her career not long after her 2006 graduation.

Her insurance at the time did not cover the procedure.

“I guess this is just time to start my ‘real life,’” she thought to herself.

She ditched her running shoes for the corporate world, got married and moved around the globe for her husband’s career in the Air Force. They had two kids — Tommy, now age 5, and Quinn, who is three years old. 

Eventually, D’Amato had surgery on her foot and started running again. Her competitive spirit meant she was a fixture at local road races, but she no longer harbored any dreams of Olympic glory.

“I really had resolved that running [at the elite level] was over for me,” she says. “After having two kids, I started running seriously just to lose weight and just to have something that was mine. As a mom, it is a lot to balance. It’s nice to have something that you can control and your space and your ‘me’ time and a little bit of freedom in your life.”

Her attitude changed in 2017, when she finished the Richmond Marathon in 2:47 — just two minutes off the Olympic Trials qualifying time. Suddenly, there was a carrot to chase. It was time to work with a coach again. Luckily, Raczko still lives in Virginia.

“He came in and really helped make my training intentional and goal-oriented and a lot smarter than what I was doing,” she says.

With Raczko once again in her corner, D’Amato upped her weekly mileage to top out between 100 and 130 miles per week with one track workout, one tempo run and the rest filled in with “fun miles,” which can mean 6:30 pace or eight to nine-minute mile pace depending on the day. 

To make her training work with her on-the-go career as a real estate agent, sometimes that means getting on the treadmill at 3 a.m., or taking work calls while out on a run.

“I’ve pulled off negotiating a sale in the middle of a run,” she says proudly.

She even started getting approached at local road races by potential clients.

“Hey, are you the running realtor?” a stranger asked at the finish line of one race, while D’Amato was still gasping for air.

D’Amato took down their information before heading out on her cool-down jog. 

“My running has been my best way to get my name out,” she says.

D’Amato started to receive more local attention as an Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier. She set a huge personal best of 2:34:55 at the 2019 Berlin Marathon to establish herself as an underdog in Atlanta. In a Trials tune-up race effort, she ran a personal best of 70:01 at the 2020 Houston Half Marathon, which garnered her an invitation to compete for Team USA at the World Half Marathon Championships. 

She would go on to set another personal best of 2:34:24 on the challenging Atlanta course to finish 15th overall at the Olympic Trials, a dream, but D’Amato couldn’t help feeling there was more left in the tank.

“That training went really, really extraordinarily great,” she says. “The Trials went well but I think that course really got the best of me — I feel like I didn’t quite nail it that day.

“It makes me cringe to think I’m disappointed. It was just brutal, brutal conditions… When I look at my whole journey, four years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter, I never thought I would be where I am today. When I was coming down the finish line, I was pumping my fists — it was so emotional.”

‘I’m not going to stop this journey because there’s no races’

Only a few weeks after the marathon trials, the coronavirus pandemic drastically shifted any plans for future racing.

D’Amato took the postponement of the World Half Marathon Championships, the U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field and the Olympic Games, as well as any fall marathons, in stride. 

“We kept the pedal to the metal to experiment for 2021,” she says. “Just to see what that would look like.”

With the idea of competing in the 10K at next year’s U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field, D’Amato and Raczko cut down her mileage to between 70 and 100 miles per week and added long speed workouts with short reps of 200 to 400 meter sprints. In one particularly memorable session, D’Amato ran forty 200-meter repeats with 100-meter jog recovery. 

“During the workout, you go a little crazy,” she said of that five-mile session. “‘Why am I out here? Is my coach playing a prank on me?’ I started thinking, ‘I’m going to stick it to him. I’m gonna do 41 of these bad boys.’”

That track session may have tested her mental strength more than her body, but there’s no denying that her transition to speedwork coupled with years of marathon training have combined for eye-opening results.

“I think my training now is much more suited to play to my strengths,” she says. “I’ve always been a really fast runner but in the past, I lacked a little bit of the endurance and strength, so now training for marathons, I’ve built up that endurance and strength, and now that I’m getting back into my roots with the speed, I think it’s a pretty lethal combination.”

A 5K time trial earlier this month yielded a 15:04 5K — an improvement on her personal best from college by over a minute, not to mention faster than the Olympic Games standard of 15:10. It’s also the seventh-fastest time in world history for a woman over the age of 35. And she says she can definitely go faster — sub-15 on a good day.

“In college, I always felt a little chip on my shoulder that I never broke 16,” she says. “I knew I was always capable, but now the fact that I know I can break 15 is so far ahead of where college Keira was, it’s just unbelievable. It makes me laugh that my 35-year-old self can kick my 20-year-old self’s butt.”

She got the confidence for the time trial after rabbiting a local high school runner to a sub-five minute mile, then hammering a 4-mile tempo run in 20:06 (including a 15:28 5K split).

D’Amato is most surprised, now, by the sudden rush of attention in a running results-starved world. 

“You know in ‘The Princess Bride,’ when they have that epic sword fight and finally the guy is like, ‘ah, I’m not left-handed!’ I feel like I just did that in the 5K,” she says. “I cannot believe the response for this and in my head, I’m like, ‘I’m not a 5K runner!’ I feel like this isn’t even my event.”

This past week, she ran a full mile on the track in 4:33.5, followed by eight 200-meter repeats cutting down from 31 to 28 seconds.

She still thinks her best event on the track is probably the 10k, and doesn’t rule out the possibility of racing a time trial in that event later this summer.

Some of her family members and friends don’t understand why she’s training so hard, especially without any races on the calendar for the foreseeable future. 

“I’m a 35-year-old mom. I don’t have the luxury of decades of a career left,” she says. “I want to see what I can do, and I want to do it now. Who knows where my story’s going to go, but I want to keep improving and I’m not going to stop this journey because there’s no races.”

Keira D’Amato’s Typical Week of Training

Monday: Easy run “fun miles”

Tuesday: Track workout (shorter reps: repeat 400s, 200/300/400 ladder, etc.)

Wednesday: Easy run “fun miles”

Thursday: Easy run “fun miles”

Friday: Strength workout (ex. 3 x 2 mile) or easy 

Saturday: Strength workout (ex. 3 x 2 mile) or easy 

Sunday: Long run (usually 14–18 miles)

Total mileage: 70–100 miles (100–130 miles during marathon training)

Key Workouts:

Four days before 5K time trial:

• 20 x 400m cutdown from 68 to 64 with 60 seconds recovery (view on Strava)

Other workouts:

• 8 x 400m, 400m, 300m (view on Strava)

• 2 mile, mile, 2 miles in 5:06/5:06, 4:51, 5:08/5:13 (view on Strava)

• 6 x 400m, 400m, 300m, 200m; 3 x 200m (view on Strava)

Check out Keira D’Amato’s Strava profile here for more on her workouts — and stay for the mom jokes.