Keira D’Amato on the Call to Go to Worlds: “There’s No Greater Honor”

She has only two weeks to prepare for a marathon. She’ll be ready.

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It was about 10 a.m. on July 1, and marathoner Keira D’Amato had just returned to her home in Oakton, Virginia, when she got a call from an official at USA Track & Field (USATF). Molly Seidel, who was scheduled to run the marathon at the World Championships on July 18 in Eugene, Oregon, was injured, D’Amato learned. Would she be interested in taking Seidel’s spot?

That call set off a busy couple of hours for D’Amato, 37, who was supposed to travel the next day with her family to run the Peachtree Road Race 10K on July 4 in Atlanta. Instead, she called her coach, Scott Raczko, got his approval, and then started canceling travel to Atlanta and planning to get herself and her family out to Eugene. She spoke with Runner’s World on July 2 about how the bittersweet news of Seidel’s injury opened up an opportunity for her and how she’ll prepare for a marathon on July 18, in two weeks.

This conversation has been edited.

Runner’s World: Where were you yesterday when you got the call?

Keira D’Amato: I was running errands, and I had just come in the door from that. It was my day off from running. I get one day off a month in a “regeneration” week, and I was about to start building up for a fall marathon. I just think it’s funny that I heard the news on my day off.

USATF called said, “You have been selected” or “We're calling on you.” I forget exactly what they said. My mind went blank. But the first thing I asked was like, “Oh, no, this is this is cool news for me to hear, but it’s really tough knowing what’s on the other end. And that one of the women isn’t going to be racing.” That was kind of my first thought, like, Oh, that is not really the call you want to get, right?

And then I was like, “When is it?” And they’re like, “It’s on the 18th.” I’m like okay, so I have two weeks, that’s not a lot of time.

If I would have known I was going to do a marathon in two weeks, I definitely would have done things a little differently, but I'm healthy. And I’m fresh. So hopefully that will make up for something.

Did you have to accept on the spot?

No, I was like, “Oh, I need to think about this. How many days?” And they were like, “Uh, it’s kind of how many hours.” Oh man. But I mean, my reaction immediately was that there’s no greater honor. Everything I have been working for my whole life is to make the U.S. team, to be able to wear red, white, and blue and a Team USA jersey. It’s such an honor. But at the same time, the reality of running a marathon in two weeks and that was like, I don’t know. So it was bittersweet and also just really exciting to hear that.

Did you call your coach right away?

Immediately I called my coach and said, “Hey, man. I got a pretty weird call today.” He’s great. This was not in our plan this year. Everything that we charted out, all the races I’ve been doing, and all the races I planned to do, none of them were this race. But he’s always been really supportive. This isn’t in the plans, but sometimes stuff doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes we’ve got to be flexible. With all his athletes, he knows there’s an emotional connection towards goals. He’s like, “We could make it work either way. If you feel like it’s too short and that stresses you out, that’s fine, and we can pass. But I can tell by the way you’re talking about this, you sound really excited about this opportunity.”

Obviously it’s not the ideal buildup, but I’m healthy, and I just ran the fastest marathon of my life six months ago. [D’Amato set the American record in the marathon on January 16 in Houston, after USATF had already selected marathoners for the World Championships.] So he kind of followed my lead. He was really supportive to let me decide. I would regret it for the rest of my life, not saying “yes” to an opportunity like this. Are you kidding me?

Did you end up running yesterday?

No. He's like, “Listen, let’s stick to the plan. We don’t need to cram, you don’t need to do anything differently.” We're sticking to our big plan, even building past this year, to 2024. I’m not going to do anything stupid. You can’t cram for a marathon like you would with a test. I’m going to stick to what I’ve been doing. I’ve been really healthy and racing well.

I had to pull out of Peachtree, which really sucked, because I was really excited about that race. My kids were signed up for the kids’ race. But instead of running Peachtree, I'll be doing a long tempo workout that day instead. But besides that, we're gonna kind of keep things the way we’ve been doing things.

Have you been putting in some long runs?

I’ve had two 18s and a 20 within the past four weeks. Typically in the marathon build, it would probably be at least three runs 20 or higher. But I just did that 25K. [On May 14, D’Amato ran the USATF 25K championships, which is roughly 15.5 miles, and finished second to Aliphine Tuliamuk.] So I have at least a little hard tempo work that’s been longer.

We’ll see how it goes, but I do feel like the fittest I’ve ever been in my life. I wouldn’t have done things this way had I known I’d be doing a marathon in two weeks, but who knows? Maybe changing it up a little bit might be the magic ticket.

Are you on a logistical scramble to get your family out to Eugene?

A little bit. Luckily my husband [Anthony] is a champion with all that stuff. We were supposed go to Peachtree, then we were going to take a down week and do a family reunion. Unfortunately I had to tell my family I’m not going to the reunion. Yesterday was canceling everything to Peachtree, and my husband started booking travel and flights for the family [to Eugene].

We’re a pretty chill family. Tell us what the plan is, and we’ll make it happen. We’re creatures of habit, but we can also go with the flow. Team D’Amato, we just show up. We’re here for it.

Have you been in touch with Molly at all?

I have. That was the first person I wanted to contact. I know she’s in a tough spot right now. And that’s her story; it’s not mine to tell. I think she’s doing the things she needs to do. I’m sure pulling out of any world competition is just hard. [Seidel said in a statement through her agent on July 1 that she has a stress reaction in her sacrum, and she is pursuing a therapeutic use exemption to be able to use Adderall in competition.]

Was she encouraging to you?

She is super encouraging. She’s like, “Listen, if the one waiting in the wings is the American record holder, that’s not such a bad alternate.” She has been so supportive of me in my whole journey. I’ve always really looked up to her. Even though it almost feels like I’m like twice her age.

She’s just been an important part of my journey and I wrote her back and she’s like, “I’m sorry.” I’m like, “There is no need to apologize. You’ve leveled up American distance running, you’ve shown how to compete on the world stage, and you’ve made all of us believe that we can do it and that it’s possible for us, and that’s such a powerful thing to do.” She’s a fighter. She’s going to get through this and come out better on the other side.

Did you sleep at all last night?

I guess I had a hard time going to bed. I played mindless games on my phone, they distract me so that I can relax. Because otherwise my mind is going a million directions. It took me a little longer to go to sleep, but I slept great once I went to sleep. Got up and had a great run this morning.

What was your run?

An easy 12. Usually on my recovery days it’s anywhere from 10 to 12 miles. I’ll probably go 10 tomorrow and then I’ll do the big workout on Monday and we’ll see how that goes. That will be a good indicator.

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