Five years ago, Keira D’Amato was feeling unsettled at her home in Virginia where she was taking care of her two toddler children. At the time, her husband was deployed by the Virginia Air National Guard. And like many working moms, D’Amato, a realtor, wanted more time for herself to enjoy activities she loved before she had kids.
So, D’Amato began picking up an old hobby that she thought she had given up long ago: running. She had stopped in 2008 after an injury, but little by little, whenever she could secure childcare, she started logging miles again. She ran shorter distances on the streets, and slowly, graduated to marathons.
At the time, she had no idea how far her hobby would go.
But on Jan. 16, at age 37, D'Amato broke the American record in the Houston Marathon. Her time was an incredible 2:19:12, beating the previously-held record of 2:19:36, which was set by Deena Kastor in London 15 years ago.
“I didn’t set out on this journey thinking I'd beat a record, but it slowly evolved,” D’Amato told Know Your Value. “I got here because I was patient and took manageable steps.”
D’Amato was not alone in shattering expectations on Jan. 16. Sara Hall, a 38-year-old mom of four kids, broke the American record in the Houston half marathon. Her time, 1:07:15, beat out the 1:07:25 American record set by Molly Huddle in 2018.
“People are surprised that I've continued to improve,” said Hall. “But I don't think of myself as old. I don’t say I'm old. I don't joke about being old ... I expect to keep improving and to handle the training better than I ever have. The expectations you set for yourself make a big difference.”
According to the 2019 State of Running report from RunRepeat, runners’ average age (for both genders) increased from 35.2 in 1986 to 39.3 in 2018. Older runners are feeling more welcome, according to the report, but women tend to start and retire younger due to childbirth and childrearing.
D’Amato said she has faced a fair amount of doubters regarding her age, but she doesn't let it get to her.
“It adds fuel to the fire for me,” she said. “When people doubt me it’s like I have this big secret, like, ‘you don't know me and you don't know what I'm capable of, so watch this.’ It fires me up in a good way. People say ‘you’re not getting any younger.’ And I say: ‘Yes, but I’m getting faster.’”
Hall has been running since age 13. Fifteen years ago, she watched her husband, Ryan Hall, set the Houston American half marathon record that still stands today. The couple adopted four children from Ethiopia who are now aged 11, 14, 17 and 21.
Hall faced a series of obstacles during her running career — from injuries to a few failed attempts to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. She almost quit running in 2009.
“I wasn't really enjoying competing because I felt like I was letting a lot of people down by failing,” said Hall, who said she leaned on her Christian faith to keep going. “I became less afraid of failing and [focused more on the] joy of competing more. I started feeling free to take more risks.”
To juggle her kids, who are 5 and 7 years old, running and her full-time real estate career, D’Amato said she ruthlessly prioritizes, and leans on help from family, including her in-laws.
“I’m lucky I have support in my life. As a type-A personality, it isn’t easy for me to ask for help, but it's awesome that my family wants to be on this journey with me. I’m not a one-woman show,” D’Amato said.
Hall said she tag teams childcare with her husband, who has retired from running. She does the brunt of her training while the kids are at school.
“When we adopted my children, they were always school age, so that helped. But there are always things you’re doing during the day—meeting with teachers, picking them up—it’s a juggling act,” Hall said.
Hall said she is training for the Boston Marathon, and will compete at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon in July. She hopes to break the American marathon record.
“Dreams don't have an expiration date,” she said. “Sometimes we put those limits on ourselves. You have to approach it with curiosity to see what your body can do, be curious about what it can handle, and how it can improve. That's the fun part of the journey.”
D’Amato was thrilled with her record breaker on Sunday, but she is looking ahead to her next achievement.
“The list of women I’m now among, it’s just mind boggling. The other part of me was like it’s not good enough,” admitted D’Amato.
For women out there who think their time has come and gone to follow their dreams, D’Amato has some advice.
“Who says? The biggest thing you need is to be patient,” she said. “Success didn’t happen for me overnight, and it’s so much harder because we have families and responsibilities. Still, we can do this.”