Willy Walker: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Walker Webcast. I'm hosting this discussion today from Walker & Dunlop's new headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland. And let me just say that it is so nice to be back in the office with all of my colleagues at W&D. I would say, generally speaking, office is in no way dead and that the excitement and collaboration and appreciation for this new space is palpable throughout our office today.
My guest Keira D'Amato, spouse to Andrew, mother to Tommy and Quinn, real estate broker, cousin to Walker & Dunlop rock star Travis D’Amato. A United States marathon record holder and all-around kickass woman. It is such a pleasure to have you with me today, Keira. I can’t thank you enough for joining me. My first question to you is where’s the cowboy hat they gave you when you won Houston?
Keira D’Amato: I actually have it. They sent it to me, and this is the funny part. After the race, one of the volunteers for the Chevron Houston Marathon, was assigned to be my cowboy hat handler, so he was there to make sure no sticky fingers or whatever got on the hat and then he shipped it to me. So, I have it. It’s actually right over here. Pretty incredible. I’ve never won a marathon before, but I am so thankful the one that I won came with the cowboy hat. I mean, that’s pretty awesome.
Willy Walker: It is really awesome. I want to start by asking you just a couple of questions on that incredible race, and then I want to back up a bunch. Talk about your career and then I want to come back and finish talking about that race and some of the specifics about it.
But one of the things that surprised me when I listened to your post-race commentary was that you said that you actually weren’t feeling that good that day and that you said “I never felt that good. I wasn’t feeling awesome, but I was feeling good enough to get it done”. You ran that race at a pace of five minute and seventeen second miles. I can’t believe for a second that you could possibly pull that off and break an American record while not feeling awesome.
Keira D’Amato: Yeah, that surprised me a little bit, too, but I had a lot of really long tempo runs and a lot of pace work that I was doing in the low five teens. So, I was learning to run pretty comfortably at 5:12, 5:13 pace. So, I thought going into the race, I felt like I could kind of lock in and cruise, and I never really felt like locked in and cruising so that surprised me a little bit. But I also know for years, I’ve shown up and I’ve worked through tough weather, not feeling great, like so many adverse conditions that I knew it didn’t have to be perfect. I knew I could still perform because I’ve done that in practice with subpar conditions or just feeling. And I think that took a little bit of the pressure off because I think if you go in hoping everything’s perfect when something goes wrong, it kind of makes you feel out of whack. So that’s why I was just thinking it was just good enough, you know, it was in the 20s and it was a little breezy, but I’m like, this is good enough. You know, I got out and I’m like, I wasn’t feeling great, but I’m feeling good. And that’s good enough today.
Willy Walker: I heard you talk about in the middle of the race sort of that struggle you had. And all of us who run marathons before know it, that your mind starts negotiating with your body and that you sit there, and you sort of have this “body doesn’t feel that great of mind telling the body to keep on going”. Given the importance of that race and trying to set the American record, which you successfully did, was that sort of mind-body negotiation more challenging on that day than it has been in the past?
Keira D’Amato: Absolutely. And I think I was going into a zone where no American woman had gone before. So, I think just mentally that struggle. Marathons are so funny to me because at the beginning, like, you’re super positive, you like, “I got this”, and you’re doing all those positive mantras like “Don’t Stop Believing”, “keep it going”, “you got this”. Then somewhere where everything begins to hurt, your mind tries to convince your whole body to slow down. And I feel like I’ve given in to that voice before in marathons and you finish and you’re like, “Oh, but what if I would have pushed through that? What if that wasn’t my limit? What if I figured out a way just to tell that voice to, like, sit down and be quiet?”
When that starts coming up, you just start negotiating and you figure out anything you can say to yourself to keep you going forward. So, I mean, originally for me, like I was just focusing on water stop to water stop that’s about three miles apart. So that’s how I was kind of just breaking down the race. Just get to the next water stop at this pace. But then you start getting into a kind of dark place that you’re like, “Why am I doing this? This really, really hurts. I willingly volunteered. I was excited about this race. What is wrong with me?” And then I got to a point where I thought I’m going to set the American record, whether it’s today or another race, I’m going to do it. But if it’s not today, I’m going to have to go and put in months and months and months of more training. I’m going to have to get up early. I’m going to have to do exactly what I did to get here, and then I’m going to have to be back at the spot and figure out how to work through it. And that seems like more work than just working through it right now. So, I’m just going to work through it. I’m going to finish; I’m going to get that record and then I don’t ever have to run again if I don’t want to. So that was kind of the deal I made with myself, which is kind of crazy. And then when you finish, you’re like, “That was awesome. I want to do that again!” But I don’t know. Just you get into a weird place. You just have to come prepared to tell your mind whatever it takes to keep moving forward.
Willy Walker: One of the pacers who you ran with made a comment after the race (he’s from Houston and he knew the course exceptionally well.) One of the things he said that I thought was so interesting was, he said, “I know the course well enough to find a second here and a second there. And given that Keira set the U.S. record by 26 seconds, we basically found a second per mile.” And I thought about that, and first of all, it was kind of cool that it was a second per mile over 26 miles. But I also think about that in the sense of the pressure throughout the race, and you started out really on a record pace and then in the middle miles, you fell back below that. Was there a moment where you sort of said, if you don’t get this thing back on track, you’re not getting the American record and was there a specific time in the race where you said, I’ve got to pick this back up or I’m not going to hit it?
Keira D’Amato: Callum Neff, the pacer you’re referring to, he’s amazing, and I credit so much of that strategy and just taking the mental burden for me in that race. You were so clever to point out 26 seconds. People were like, ‘Man, you crushed that. I’m like, you know what? In a marathon like I slid into home plate there. Like that wasn’t crushing. If you know, I hadn’t run the tangents that would have been game over.”
But the course also is a big loop. So, when you’re running from, I think it was about 10 miles to 18, you’re running north, so there was a huge headwind there. And that was when I was struggling the most. We kind of predicted that’s where the wind was going to be a little bit tougher. So, I just kept telling myself, if I can make it to 18 where you kind of turn right and you start heading back, the wind hopefully will be at my back. So, working through that, I think naturally we slowed down just a little bit because of that wind. But I think also we slowed down a little bit because they could see that I was just a step back from them. So, they kind of would like, you know, instead of breaking that chain, they would kind of ease up and let me catch up and then try to pick it back up. But since I wasn’t feeling great, I wasn’t looking at my watch and we had like a pace car there with a big scroll on it, telling us what our projected time was, our last mile. I wasn’t even looking at that because I thought that that feedback just wouldn’t help me, because if we are too slow, I’d get frustrated if we are too fast. I was thinking, why are we running this fast? I’m not feeling good, let’s slow down. So, I was like, you know what? They know what the plan is. I trust these guys. Just like, put your head down and work. So, yeah, and I tell people to. I slowed down in the middle just to make it a little dramatic because I think people are like, oh man, once you slow down in a marathon, it’s over. But once we turned the corner to 18 and came back with like eight miles, we didn’t really have a tailwind like we thought, but there wasn’t the headwind. So that just really we were able to pick it back up and lock into an even faster pace. And I think somewhere around like 20 or 21, we hit a 5:14 mile, which was well under pace, and my other pacer, Silas, was like, “Yeah, Keira you got this.” And once things start going your way again, that kind of builds momentum.
Willy Walker: So, I want to a) remind people that saying “I slid in 26 seconds breaking the American record” is actually a huge margin of victory, if you will. And b) I want to remind people that you beat the number two woman in the marathon by 10 minutes. So, let’s keep all this in. I appreciate you saying, “yeah, but it was down to one second per mile.” That’s one of the key things that I find to be so incredible about your whole story as it relates to the way that you came back to running.
And so, let’s back the videotape up for a moment Keira, and kind of walk people through. Because when I talk about your incredible accomplishments as a runner, it’s in the broader context of your incredible accomplishments as a mom, as a professional, and as someone who is 38 years old and just set the American record. So, you grew up actually in this area in northern Virginia. You went to Oakton High School and we’re actually a soccer player and decided to pick up running to get in shape for soccer. My understanding of your story is that you got out there and you ran some cross country in the fall, getting ready for soccer in the spring. And you know, you kind of never looked back. At that time, Keira, was it that you actually had a true love for running and it made you feel good? Or was it that you were really good at it, and you got attention for being good at it?
Keira D’Amato: I think initially it was the attention to be brutally honest because running is tough and getting into running is really hard. When people come up to me and they’re like, “Oh, I’m not a runner and I’m like, man, I’ve ’been there. Give yourself some time, be patient with yourself. It takes a little bit to build that love.” It takes weeks of running to get to the point where you don’t feel like you’re floating a little bit while you’re running, and you get the endorphins going. But yeah, I think it was the attention, and I think I started out and I was pretty good at it. And then I found a community of girls on the Oakton team that immediately became my best friends. And I just felt like I found my people. And then I learned to love it. But yeah, I don’t think I loved it right off the bat.
Willy Walker: So, you went on to do American University and you were a four-time all-American. You won 11 Patriot League titles. At that time,. for track and field, you were a longer distance runner, but in comparison to a marathon, you were a short distance runner. So, you were doing 5K meters and 10K meters and you and you come out of AEU having been a four-time all-American and you decide that you want to make a run to be a professional runner. And so, from 2006 to 2009, you made a kind of a run at making running your life. Talk about that period of time because as I understand it, you had huge aspirations to be on the Olympic team and everyone thought that you were going to be on the Olympic team. Did you in that period of time, kind of, if you will, to be blunt about it, kind of put the cart before the horse.
Keira D’Amato: Yes and no. I think that for athletes or just people in general with goals, I think you’ve got to dream big and see where you’re going, right? So ever since I was little, the Olympics have been and they’re still a dream of mine. And I think it’s really healthy to have those big, outrageous goals that you’re working towards. And who knows, like if you get it or if you don’t, but it’s going to be like a really great journey. So, I think it’s important to set those. But then I also had the more realistic short-term goals that I was aiming for on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis as well.
But you know, it was really cool. And I think the biggest thing for me, just getting out of college and seeing that being a professional athlete is a possible career choice. That really opened my eyes to just like where my life would take me. And I felt like I was really following my heart and my passion at the time. And I felt really lucky to be doing something every day that I felt so passionate about. And I just, you know, I’d be out on runs like, “Wow, this is kind of my job, like not getting paid very much but that’s OK because I’m really happy.” Yeah. And then I had a series of injuries, which kind of pushed me out. I had to get a surgery that wasn’t covered by my insurance at the time. So ’I was kind of forced out which really sucked because it wasn’t on my terms leaving the sport. My body made that decision for me. So that was the kind of stuff that that dream was taken away.
Willy Walker: I’ve heard you say that you were known as “Keira the Runner” and now you’re the “Keira the Runner Who Didn’t Run.” So how did you find Keira?
Keira D’Amato: I think that’s why I was limited in my success before is because there was so much of my individuality and confidence was all about running. Having that break, I went to my computer and mathematics degree and worked in it for a little bit, and then I eventually got into real estate. My mom is a real estate agent, so I started working for her brokerage and as far as a career, I feel like real estate it’s just in my blood, I guess. But it was really fun for me to learn the different sides.
Then I became a wife and a mother, and then I learned to bring running back into my life for fun. It was just my fun, healthy thing. My husband and I would go on running dates or I’d meet a girlfriend, we’d go for a run, or someone would say there’s a local race, and I’d be like, “Hey, I’ll show up. Let’s see if I can run my age group” you know, and it just was no pressure. And I think just learning how to put running in my life with no pressure, really, I think is why I’m sitting here today because I still feel no pressure from running, but I have a whole bunch of goals that I’m kind of like, “Well, if I hit them – great! And if I don’t, I still have my family, my kids, my real estate, I’m still happy. So, it’s really brought me into a pretty risk-free zone, I guess.
Willy Walker: So, a couple of questions on all that. And I think this whole issue about stress, pressure and coming out of an extremely successful collegiate career into a professional career and then taking time off and coming back to it is fascinating. I heard you after Houston talking about the fact that you look at your running career now, as if it’s a) great gift and b) there’s kind of nothing to lose so you can take risks.
I had Jim Courier, the former number one tennis player in the world, on the webcast a couple of weeks ago. And Jim was talking about his upbringing and that one of the greatest gifts that his parents gave him was the ability to take risks and lose and fail. And there are many, many, you know, incredibly talented young tennis players in the United States today who have parents who don’t allow them to fail that have an expectation of constantly winning, and therefore it puts so much stress on them that they kind of fall out. As you think about the combination of physical fitness and mental preparation, if you will, or mental well-being now versus when you were a competitive runner, either in college or after college. Other than the fact that you’re doing it out of a true love now and then, you loved it as well. Is there anything else from a kind of an expectations standpoint that allows you to be so successful now versus previously?
Keira D’Amato: Yeah, I think I’m a little bit maturity. I mean, obviously my perspective on everything, it’s changed, and I think I just have more patience. Like everything in my early 20s, “I wanted it now.” I worked really hard. I’d get nervous for a race, and I work even harder, which isn’t necessarily smarter. And so now I think being in my late 30s and figuring out how to work smarter and then I just have now decades of experience, I’ve figured out a lot of ways to lose that I finally figured out how to win. When I was in the race and especially in that marathon, I was thinking like, I have gotten to this point, and I’ve like caved to that voice. It’s telling me to slow down. I’m tired of caving, you know, and I’ve just lost or come short of my goal so many times that I just didn’t want that to happen again. I just felt like this was my time. I think that like it comes in an experience, you know, all these years I’ve been putting tools in my toolbox, and I finally figured out the right tools to use.
Willy Walker: It’s so fascinating. I just love it. It gives me goosebumps to think about it because one of the reasons that you had to give up running was you were getting stress fractures and stress fractures, actually is a medical condition. But something tells me that a little bit of your own personal stress of pushing your training and trying to be as good as you were expected to be, helped create some of those stress fractures. And so, there’s almost, it’s not a play on words, a stress fracture is actually a stress fracture it’s not created in the mind it’s created in the legs. And at the same time, that combination of mental health and physical health is evidently working right now in how you’re performing as an athlete.
Keira D’Amato: Absolutely. In my early 20s, when I really wasn’t getting paid to run very much, I was working part time jobs just to pay my rent and to keep running. It was hard to fit everything in my life. So going into a race, knowing there is prize money on it, there was just so much more pressure on that. And now fast forward to now, I have my real estate, I have a successful career that, before I was sponsored with Nike, I could buy shoes and I could travel, and we had the luxury of doing all these things without really worrying. And I think just taking that pressure off is really fraying as well. And I think that it’s allowed me to make my own schedule and to pick the races that I think I’m going to do the best or, you know, it’s just really opened me up to really just focus on what my limits are, how fast I can run. And that’s it.
Willy Walker: So, you had a surgery to repair something called the Tarsal Coalition. I don’t know what that surgery does, but I guess just for listeners to understand that the injury that took you out of running and then having to deal with that injury today, do you still have side effects from having had that surgery and what they did to your ankle?
Keira D’Amato: The Tarsal Coalition, I think there were two bones that were connected where they shouldn’t have been, and I think I was just born that way. I am not a doctor or scientist, and this is not the medical terminology, but because there wasn’t that release there, it was putting extra pressure on other bones in my foot, so it’s breaking other bones around it. So, they had to go in and separate those bones. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to run at this level. But once I got that surgery, I thought, “well, at least I can run again, you know, let’s just run for fun.” It’s really been in the back of my mind, my whole time. How long is my ankle going to hold up? I’ve never had any issues since, but I also do a lot of exercises. I do a lot of toe yoga, ankle drills and stuff just to make sure that that foot is strong enough to handle my load.
Willy Walker: I don’t think anyone listening to this does toe yoga, that’s definitely a rehab exercise. (laughs). Only someone who’s had what you have has to do. So, you’d had your sons, Tommy and Quinn and you wanted to lose some pounds that you’d put on while having children and you went out to start running again. I find that to be fascinating because it is such a normal thing to do. I mean, here you are, you had this amazing running career, but you stepped off that track. You’ve gotten married to, by the way, a two-track star from the Air Force Academy. So, let’s not forget that your kids are getting amazing genes from both you and your husband, Anthony. But then you just say, “Let me go, start doing it” and on your first run, you couldn’t go for more than three minutes?
Keira D’Amato: My first run back, I felt like I was running on a different planet. Gravity was like 20 times what it was on Earth just because coming back after pregnancy, I was still a lot heavier and just everything shifted, nothing felt normal. So, I was like, just run three minutes and I made it to maybe like maybe a minute, maybe 90 seconds, and I just stopped. I'm like, I can't go any further. So, I walked home, and I was feeling down, but I'm like, I'll try again tomorrow. Like, today, I didn't do it, but I'll try again tomorrow. We'll see, and eventually I made it and just kept building.
I also think that's just the reason why I love running and why I think it's so beautiful. Your “WHY am I doing this?” can evolve throughout your whole life. And I think, like in high school, it was to stick to it, to prove to the soccer coach and to build confidence. And I was a little shy, so I defined that community. Fast forward into my 30s, I was running for health reasons and then my husband, Anthony was deployed with the military for a while. And I have so much help from family nearby, like with the kids. But that was really tough for me, I was really lonely. My partner in crime was gone, so I filled that void with running and we kind of joked that if he hadn't deployed, I may not be here. But it's kind of true because, you know, I'd put the kids down at like 6 or 6:30pm, they were like zero and one, and I'd get on the treadmill, I'm like, “Well, what else am I gonna do?” I'll just get on the treadmill and then it was chaotic, so I needed a little space to myself, so I'd get a babysitter to come over. And I didn't want just 10-20 minutes to myself. I'm like, hey, I'm going to try running for like an hour and a half now. That's the kind of space I need right now, where I could just listen to my podcast, or my music and I just felt like I had a little more control over it.
And then I started getting that feedback. I've just seen the progress, and that's when it started getting a little bit more exciting as I just became obsessed with trying to hit, maybe I can run this many miles in a week. Eventually, I kind of gifted a marathon entry to my husband for Christmas, which is like a thoughtful gift because marathon entries are expensive, but also kind of the worst gift ever, because then he had a train and then I felt bad. So, I was like, “OK, tell you what, I'll do it too.” But that's where it all started, and I did that marathon, and I ran the whole way.
Willy Walker: That was the Shamrock Marathon in 2017 right?
Keira D'Amato: Absolutely. Yeah, that's one. And I qualified for Boston. I couldn't believe I qualified for Boston because when everyone finds out you're a runner, they ask, what's your mile time? Have you run the Boston Marathon? Those are like the two biggest runner questions. So, I qualified for Boston, and then that just kept going. Well, if I can run 3:14, can I break three? And then I did that and was two minutes off the Olympic Trials qualifier, and I was like, maybe I could qualify, wouldn't that be crazy? Some mom realtor in their 30s qualified for the Olympic Trials. And then I qualified. I was like, well, I'm going to be there. I might as well really show up. Like, let's see if I can really race and like to see what I can do. Maybe I can make a team that would be nuts. So, it kind of just snowballed. And it wasn't like I set on this journey to think, OK, I'm going to be the American record holder. It was just like step by step, and I kept saying, What's next? What's the next goal? Check, let's keep going.
Willy Walker: After running Boston and you kind of set your sights on getting to the U.S. trials, you got back together with your coach, Scott Raczko, who had been your coach at DC Elite. Talk for a moment about that transition for all practical purposes. Being an amateur, doing your own training and then getting back with a professional coach as good and is focused as Scott.
Keira D'Amato: That was the smartest thing I think I could have ever done because it's really hard to train yourself. I think it's really hard. You kind of need an outside perspective to help. Compared to what my coach Scott Raczko knows, I know so little about running compared to him. So, I think it was really smart that he put our training into a very intentional way. And when I asked him to be my coach, he's like, “Well, are you going to listen?” I'm like, “Well, well, mostly. If it's fun, then I'll listen.” I think we were on the same page, we're going to work hard, but this is going to be really fun, and I appreciate that he's allowed me to jump into like fun local races or just like even for workouts, just jumping in. He's a phenomenal coach, and I think he thinks about marathon training differently than a lot of people in the U.S. do. I think a lot of people have extremely high mileage, long runs, and a lot of pounding. And for me, I work a lot on speed too. So those long runs and all that is there, but I do a lot of speed work to make sure that that marathon pace is going to feel pretty relaxed.
Willy Walker: So, I know that 2:56, in Boston in 2018, if you will. I don't want to call it “wind enabled”. It was wind detriment and in the sense, it was terrible weather. And so, it was a tough day to post a really good time. But from that Boston time to working with Scott, you then go run Berlin in 2:34. And as I told you previously, when I took my marathon time from 2:45 to 2:36 and took 9 minutes off of it, I thought I had cured cancer. I mean, I worked so hard to try and find those 9 minutes between one Boston Marathon and the next to get there. The concept that you went from a 2:56 to a 2:34 just baffles me. I understand that you were doing speed work. But I mean, that's just an amazing jump from those two times, beyond doing a lot of tempo running and just putting it in. Was there something else? Was it diet or was it sleep? Was it just Scott's coaching? What was it that caused that dramatic step up in performance?
Keira D'Amato: I think the biggest thing is just the consistency. I wasn't injured. I never really got sick. And I think leading into the trials, I thought about the last two years, this was in February of 2020. In the last two years, I don't think I had to take one unplanned day off, and that's just consistent training. And I think when you add all that consistency together, something really special happens. So, I think that's probably the most important thing. But then, when I approached Scott, he said that he'd coach me, but I need to do x y z. I'm like, whoa, this is fun. All I want to do is run. And then every few months, he would trick me into adding something new into my training to just kind of use different muscles or to strengthen something different. And he ever so slightly. Because when you look at everything I do now, it's just crazy. And I tell him, like, “how would you trick me into doing this? I told you all I wanted to do is run. I don't want to stretch,” but we slowly have built it all in and I've learned why it's so important to be doing all of those things too. So, I think he does a really great job stimulating me. I also think that, coming from a place in 2018 when I ran Boston, I had a one-and-a-half-year-old baby. So, it takes a while for your body to get back and just build up. And I didn't have a big base training. So, for 2017 to 2020, I consider it a big base training time for me. But then I also think I'm naturally talented at running, and back in high school and college and being a miler, I think I naturally have some leg speed, which I think has really helped me get all the marathon time down. But yeah, and I think we've just progressed slowly. We haven't rushed it. We've been really patient, which I think is like the secret sauce to marathon training is just being patient. If you put it all in too fast, like you can get injured or get sick or something, you can get burnt out. And for me, like he was just really patient in developing me. So, I don't know. I just think Scott Raczko is just an incredible coach, and I think I work pretty hard.
Willy Walker: You talked about Berlin in February of 2020, so that's just pre-pandemic. There was a great article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago called “How I Outran the Covid Doldrums” by a guy named Mark Naida. And in it, he said, according to RunRepeat, 29% of all runners worldwide started running during the pandemic. So, we're seeing this great renaissance of running during the pandemic, and there were some really interesting things that he talked about in there, of some person who literally ran a marathon on a 28-foot balcony in their Berlin apartment. I don’t know if you saw that, but you ran 1504, 5000 meters during the pandemic and took a full minute off of your own PR that you did 15 years previously. So, talk about that of just going out and banging out 1504, 5000 meter during the pandemic on your own and just said, why not? Let's go see what we can do in taking a minute off your previous PR.
Keira D'Amato: Do you know how good it feels to beat your college self, it's so good?! Oh yeah, that was cool. That was really cool. When the pandemic shut the world down, in my head, I'm like, “Well, running is not canceled.” While everything else was slowing down, everyone was locking down. Running is a really safe sport you can do on your own time, and I just like to put the pedal to the metal. I'm in my late thirties. I don't know how long my body is going to handle this. I'm doing it smart and building on the right way. So, I think I definitely have years ahead of me, but I kind of feel like, well, I'm not going to stop, my goal is to find my limits and I can still do that even though there's not races, there's not training groups or whatever. I'm going to still just keep the pedal to the metal. So, we were training really hard, and I find it a huge blessing for me in COVID with just having those goals still and working towards things, I think that kept me really sane in an otherwise very chaotic time. We just set up a little time trial on the track and my buddy had a camera. So, I'm like, hey, you want to come film this? Just I have proof of what's going to happen. I had no idea really what I'd run that day, but that was crazy because I knew, I thought I was capable of running that time. But I didn't really stop to think of what that time meant. So that’s the Olympic standards 5K for the world. It was a Top Five Time in the World ever for women over 35 years old. And here, it was 6 a.m. at a high school track up my street. So that was really cool and that also went kind of viral. So, then I think that's when I started popping up on people's radar because the headline is always like “Mom Realtor Runs Fast.” That was the start of a really incredible 2020 for me. And then I put on my own 10-mile race.
Willy Walker: And you did your what's up, dog?
Keira D'Amato: Yeah, that's the cool thing about putting your own race on if you get to pick the name. So, I'm like, well, if I'm going to pick it, I'm going to make it the Up Dog Race. And that's where I set the Women's American record for Ten Mile. So, it was just a fun opportunity to have kind of just some random goals and find fun ways and just to keep running like really fun, but still like track the progress and keep adding.
Willy Walker: So, you set the American record on the 10 miler at the Up Dog. And by the way, just as one quick anecdote on it, you're on the Coordinating Committee for the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, which I've run plenty of times. I ran the Army Ten Miler a number of years ago and I came across the finish line and I was with my buddy who I ran it with and we're sitting there and all of a sudden, Joan Benoit Samuelson comes across the finish line. And so, we're still on the shoots coming out of it. Joan Benoit Samuelson was competing in Boston back when I ran Boston, and she's a star, and so I went over to say hi to her and she totally dissed me, Keira. I just beat you in the Army Ten Miler, and you're not even giving me any credit to just say hi to me.
Keira D'Amato: Maybe that's why. Because Joan is a competitor. That is so funny. She has her eyes on you, Willy.
Willy Walker: She totally dissed me. I walked up and said, “I'm such a huge fan.” She was like, “I don't want to talk to you.”
So, you set the American record and then you go pro, and I love, love, love reading about you signing your Nike contract. And by the way, boy, is Nike did they ever get it right by signing you up? I mean, they're obviously sitting there saying she's got potential and whatever. But the story that's come together around Houston, mom, realtor, and now American record holder is just a dream come true from a marketing standpoint. But go back to signing up with Nike in February – you went pro again. I mean, you were a pro once, then you retire. Just talk me through like the conversations of talking with them at their headquarters, talking to Beaverton and signing up: the excitement and euphoria of being a sponsored athlete at 38 years old, you may have actually been 37 then, but the bottom line is, a mom of two, a full-time job, and now all of a sudden you're back to being sponsored by the biggest brand on Earth.
Keira D'Amato: I think initially I was hesitant towards sponsorship because like, everything's working right? Why would I rock the boat? Like, for whatever reason, I felt very powerful that I was an unsponsored athlete doing it my way, setting my own goals. I felt like I was sticking it to the system a little bit that you don't need a sponsor to be able to run fast, and people feel like they're pigeonholed into this one path. And I just didn't want that really to be me. I was running in Nike shoes for a decade, I wasn't getting injured, I was feeling really healthy. I just love Nike shoes. But when they approached, they were like, “Listen, we don't want you to move. You don't have to change your coach, you don't have to do anything differently, we want you to keep being you. We love that you're a realtor. We think that you found a really great balance to your life, which is why you're having success. And we just want to support you.” And like, that sounds awesome. Yeah, I mean, I run in Nike shoes. I love their gear and it's been really awesome to be part of that Nike family now. So, I'm really appreciative of their support. And now there are definitely perks of being a sponsored athlete, so it's been kind of fun.
Willy Walker: So, I'm sure a lot of people listening want to know which shoe you run in, and I think you train in the Nike Zoom Fly, and you race in the Vaporfly NEXT%. Why? What's the difference between the two shoes?
Keira D'Amato: Yeah. So, the Nike Zoom Fly is the training version of the Vaporfly and Alpha Fly. So, it's a trainer shoe. It's a little bit heavier, but there is a plate in it that you're feeling a little bit of that ride similar to the Vaporfly. So, I love that train shoe. I've been testing out some other shoes recently, too, to see if I can kind of alternate some different shoes for my training runs, and I'm really excited about some of the ones I've been trying. But then for track workouts, I do the Vaporfly. Like anything shorter, like half marathon and shorter, that's a shoe that I’ll race in. It feels super responsive, your cadence just feels so good and so smooth. And then for the Chevron Houston Marathon, I actually raced in Alpha Fly, which is similar to the Vaporfly with the plate, but it's just a little softer and it's built for marathons, especially with Houston being on cement rather than pavement, which is a little bit tougher. I wanted a shoe that could absorb a little bit more of that and keep my legs a little fresher and the shoe works great. I love the shoe! So yeah, I think going forward, probably marathons, I'll be Alpha Fly and then anything shorter than marathon, I'll go to the Vaporfly. Training is flexible. But I've also learned I've done a lot of my long runs in the Alpha and Vapor so I can recover quicker, which is a really great thing of just how technology and shoes have advanced that Joan Benoit didn't have when she was running, but I think that's really helped me be able to load the miles on and recover quicker.
Willy Walker: And as post-race, you know, Monday morning, you're on the Today Show. I can only imagine that Nike sitting there going, Man, oh man, now we know we've really got a storyline here. We can really promote this. Has the last two weeks have been filled with a lot of discussions with Nike about everything from shoes, promotions, and things of that nature, has it been pretty much kind of how it was beforehand?
Keira D'Amato: A little bit of both. They sent like a whole big team out to Houston, and I was going to meet with them afterwards just to give them feedback on shoes and hear the new things coming out and apparel. And that was awesome. And they brought so many donuts, we had a little celebration there. So that was really fun just to just chat with them.
Willy Walker: Donuts? That's what we all ought to aspire to when we turn pro is that we get donuts? (laughs)
Keira D'Amato: Donuts with bacon and cereal. It was like just the really crazy, outrageous donuts, which was awesome. Oreos too! There’re ones with just stacks of Oreos on the donut. But yeah, and then I really appreciate it because they do a lot of behind the scenes work and then they'll kind of fill me in. So, I'll be chatting with 300-500 of their employees in the next week or two. And they're kind of coming up with some other marketing initiatives. They have a couple of really cool programs that they want me to help out with in the coming days. So, I love that man, because I just feel like running has given so much to me that it's important, so much, like down to my core to give back through running and to have some sort of platform to stand on and be able to support others. Finding this passion, or like in the community, it's really important for me to be involved and just especially with kids at a young age, like getting in and finding running is just a really special thing. So, I really love the opportunities just to be able to reach out and connect with people.
Willy Walker: I love some of your social media posts the day that you sign with Nike. You wrote “I turned pro, dude.” Just curious. I was just curious because “dude”, who are you referring to with “dude”?
Keira D'Amato: I have no idea. I say “dude” all the time. You clearly were born in like the eighties or whatever because I was like an 80s or 90s term that I just never really grew out of. But I'll call my son, “dude” or my husband “dude” and I call people “dude” all the time. And they're like, “Well, what?” This just confuses people. I don't know. I just love that word, though. I think it's just a good filler for me when I don't know what else to say.
Willy Walker: And on a lot of your Strava posts you put awesome, awesome limericks and jokes on your run. So, you go out for some casual run, and you come back with this wonderful title to it. That's really funny. Where did you come up with writing that on your Strava posts?
Keira D'Amato: I got the jokes from like the popsicle sticks my kids were eating where you get a joke at the end. You have to eat the popsicle stick to find what the answer is. So, they started from there. I have probably one of the worst memories in the world, but somehow I hear a joke and it's just stored up in my brain. I think that's taking up all the storage instead of the important things. Ask me what I have for breakfast, and I tell you I have no idea, but ask me a joke I heard in fourth grade, and I can tell it to you. So that’s just maybe how my mind works. And then I just started putting that into Strava, and I did it enough that when I stopped, people were like, “Hey, boo, morning run’s not a joke.” And I was like, OK, people are liking this. At one point, I tried to switch to something else. People like, “get back to the jokes, get back to what you’re good at.” You know, when you’re searching through Strava, which I absolutely love. But I think it’s a really cool way to connect with the running community and support others. Give them the kudos, but you just, you know, it can kind of be a little dull. So, I'm like, you know what, if they get like a little laugh from, like my weird little post and there then I'm doing a good job.
Willy Walker: It's super fun to see. When you think about all that it's taken for you to get back to where you are. And now at this level, I was asking Courier, actually, in hindsight about his career where he'd won four tournaments, he won French twice, he'd won Australian twice. And at that moment, he was the number one tennis player in the world. And if he'd look back, that was 1993, January of 1993 with his Australian Open, and he was a pro tennis player for the next seven years, but that was the pinnacle of his career. Here you are 38, Mother of two with a full-time career outside of running – and now all of a sudden, you're not only the American record holder in the marathon, but now the expectations are building. Is she going to the Olympics? Is she going to run the marathon in the Olympics? I was also surprised that you're still thinking about running shorter distances of 5000 meters and 10000 meters.
First of all, it's sort of two questions there. How does it feel with the expectations being built for you again? And then the second thing is, I do want to get to that 5000 meter in 10000 meter, whether you're actually going to continue to train to try and run at the Olympics at that distance.
Keira D'Amato: I don't feel any pressure from it, right? I know what my goals are, and I know what I'm working towards. And kind of like we mentioned earlier, like even on the starting line of the Houston Marathon, I was thinking, “I'm either going to get the American record today or I'm not.” And if I don't, I'm happy, I'll be in the exact same position I am now. So, I kind of feel like that way going towards the Olympics, like I make it known that that's my goal and I'm training towards this. But if I fall short, I'll be in the same spot I am now, and that's OK, too. So, I really don't feel any pressure from those expectations. I have a lot of things that I want to accomplish, and a lot of unfinished business.
But I think what's so powerful for me is like in my first round, I didn't hit any of those goals and I learned how to forgive myself. It's not that bad. I didn't hit any of that stuff and I was still happy. Life goes on. So, I think I know what it is to fail, and it's not that bad. But I also know what it is to fail and how I lived with that for a decade, just thinking what if all that could have been, should have been, would have been? So, it's such a unique spot for me to have experienced that because the feeling's not that bad.
But also, I don't want to fail anymore. I’ve done that. I want to see what happens when I can push through and succeed. As far as just the 5K and 10K, my coach and I naturally kind of take like the first half of the year train for shorter events like the mile 5K, 10K and the second half, we put in a little bit more mileage and train a little bit more marathon specific training. And I think just every time I can bring my mile, my 5K, my 10K times down, my marathon gets even stronger and vice versa. The stronger I can get in the marathon, coming in to run like a 5K or 10k. I have a lot of strength that I can put into that, so I think I'm a pretty dynamic runner. I think that there's a lot on the track that I haven't done. I think if on the Houston Marathon Day, if you would have said, you know what? The course is closed, we're going to do a 5K or 10K. I think I would have PR-ed in all of those distances that day. So, I'm really excited to get an opportunity on the track. And my PR right now is the 15:04 and I'm pretty confident I go under 15. And if I can do that, I mean, I'd be running with some of the best in the nation and then my 10K, I have big goals for the 10K. I think that I have an opportunity to maybe make Team USA for the World Championships this summer. And it's actually in Eugene, Oregon. So, the first time it's ever been on U.S. soil. So, to be able to be part of Team USA for that would be really special. But training from that doesn't detract from my other goals. I think it only enhances them. So, it's fun, right? When I only have to run for 15 minutes, that's way better than running for two hours and 19 minutes, right? It's over so much quicker.
Willy Walker: Have any other Olympians who did the marathon run the 10000 meters? I mean, is that common? I just I've no idea. Is it wildly uncommon that someone would do the 10000 meters and then also compete in the marathon?
Keira D'Amato: Yeah, I think there's been a handful of women like Shalane Flanagan who was a really competitive 10K runner, Deena Kastor also was a phenomenal 10K runner. I think that more common than not, people move up in distance and they'll start with the 5K and 10K and then they'll eventually move up to the marathon. So, I think it is a little unique that I'm kind of going back and forth. But I remember watching Shalane Flanagan or Deena Kastor leaning into marathon races, they'd be able to crush a 10K, I think that really is a good sign of your fitness, too. So, I don't think it's too uncommon, but yeah, and I don't know.
Willy Walker: And as it relates to general fitness, diet, sleep, do you wear an aura ring or WHOOP strap?
Keira D'Amato: I don't. I’m kind of old school but it would be interesting to get all that data. I have a watch that does heart rate and stuff so I can kind of see. But to me the number one recovery tool we all have is sleep, right? So that's something that's really important to me. I read that a lot of elite athletes, they even take naps. I don't have the time to take a nap in the middle of the day, but I am really careful to get enough sleep every night. And then as far as nutrition, like I am with marathons, you just burn through so much. I'm really, really careful that I'm eating enough and getting enough of what my body needs. I've worked with InsideTracker, which helps let me know my biomarkers and what's lacking, and so I can kind of tailor my meals and everything that way. But yeah, that's a lot. That's a big piece of the puzzle, too, because if you don't have the energy, you're not going to be able to add to your load.
Willy Walker: And do you generally train in the morning or the afternoon, given that you're a full-time mom and also have a full-time job? Something tells me that unlike most professional athletes who set their life around their training schedule, your training schedule works in with your life.
Keira D'Amato: Absolutely. Yeah. I like running in the morning more so usually I'll get the kids on the bus and be in my running clothes and just run out. The bus actually does like a funny loop and like I can cut through a neighborhood that I can actually try to race the bus. So sometimes on runs I’m like, OK, kids, I'm going to race you today. Let's see if we can get it. But yes, I like it in the morning. And I also just the sooner you add those like workouts in your day, the more likely that's going to happen. So just from getting back into this and finding how running fits in my life, it's just so much more likely to happen if I get up and do it before everything.
But also, as far as real estate, nothing really happens in the morning like the paperwork and everything. You know, everything is around my client's schedule or home inspections usually don't start then. So, I just try to get all my running done just so I'm ready for the day and then I feel great all day and I can eat whatever I want for lunch. Rather than thinking if I run after lunch, I got to eat something light. So yeah, I just like to start off the day with a run.
Willy Walker: And from a recovery standpoint, I was looking at your Strava feeds post Houston and you've been running what is a relatively pedestrian pace like 7:20 and 7:40? There was actually a run. You went out and you did 8:03s or something. How important is recovery and rest once you've done something like Houston? And how consistent are you in giving your body time to rest versus maybe previously in your career when you were younger, pushing it and constantly trying to up and up and up the times and stay at much, much faster paces?
Keira D'Amato: I think that every race is a little different. I think usually for me in between seasons how we kind of do six months of like speed work and then six months of marathon. We kind of take a few weeks off after that and usually it's one week completely off and then one week running. If I feel like it, which sometimes means I don't even run that week or sometimes I do, but I think it depends on the race. Like that Houston Marathon took a lot out of me, like I was feeling like I don't drink, but I felt hungover for like a week after that race. So, I think I just kind of listen to my body. And if I can't let my body recover after that and how am I going to build? Marathons take a while too; I think it's like a good month before everything kind of gets back to some equilibrium in your body. So, we're really careful with that rest.
Willy Walker: So, my final question for you, and I so appreciate you spending this time to talk about it because your story is so amazing Keira in just so many facets and from a mental health standpoint and a physical health standpoint. The comeback after having surgery, the very sort of normal way you got back to running is such an incredible storyline that at least as somebody who loves to run and who loves to exercise, but also understands that my day in the sunshine never, ever will be like yours. But at the same time, your story is so compelling and exciting to get out there and strap on the shoes and go for a run, which I think, quite honestly is what's just the whole marketing theme, if you will, for Nike behind you and what you've done is that everyone can associate with it. Everyone can deal and understand failure. They can't really understand getting back to it and getting back to it at the level that you've gotten to it. But it's such an inspiring story. And I thank you so much for sharing it with us. But there's also a story that you have long been a proponent of that running socks need to be washed inside out.
Keira D'Amato: (laughs hard) That is so funny! Willy, you have done your homework!
Willy Walker: I'm just really curious about whether there's any truth to running socks being washed inside out to keep them fluffier or better to work, or whether that's a little bit of a white lie from Keira.
Keira D'Amato: Actually, there is a little bit of truth to that, but it started as a white lie because my husband and we were doing laundry in the first year of our marriage. We've been married for 10 years now, and he'd be like, “Hey, Keira, do you think you can flip your socks the right way before you put them in the laundry? Because then we don't have to flip them before folding?” And like in my head, I just got defensive. I'm like, “Well, that's actually the best way to wash the socks. And he's like, “What?” I answered, “Yeah, I do that purposely, not because I'm lazy. I do that purposely because that's the best way to wash them.” And then later, I'm Googling, is that right? I don't know why I said that. I think I found two articles I sent to them from reliable sources like a Runner's World or something, saying that it does help protect the integrity of the sock. So, for the next 10 years of our marriage, every time I'm folding laundry, all of his socks are inside out and I'm flipping them the right way before folding. And it was just like I had it, just eventually I just had to tell him, “Listen, I made that up.” and I told him on our ten-year anniversary. I like wrote this letter saying, “You know what, the truth is I was just lazy that day. You got me. Can we get back to just putting your socks in the right way?” So that's pretty funny, but I think it is good, but it's annoying to folding.
Willy Walker: Well, I think it's a great story and a great anecdote. Given your story, I don't think there's a person who would ever call you lazy. So anyway, thank you, Keira. It's a real pleasure. And look, I love the fact that you don't feel any pressure on you. But for all of us who watch you, we're all rooting for you. And it would be really fun to see you in the Olympic Games in Paris. And good luck in the training. Good luck with motherhood. Good luck with work, and thanks again for joining me today.
Keira D'Amato: Thanks so much for having me, Willy. You have been so fun to talk to. I would love to go for a run or a bike with you sometime.
I was telling Susan right before we got on that as far as the pressure, I set out on this very internal goal. And along the way, I've been so humbled by the support and like the appreciation and just like women or parents or people that ran and don’t any more reaching out saying that they've pulled a little inspiration from my story and that it is so powerful to feel that support. And just like you invited me on to your webcast. I was looking through like all the people, like I don't belong here. Like one of these is not like the other. I just am so flattered and humbled that you took the time and wanted to chat with me. So, thank you for this beautiful experience. It was really fun talking with you.
Willy Walker: It's fantastic. Thank you everyone for joining us today, and we'll be back next week with another Walker Webcast. Thanks, Keira.