The Washington Post
D’amato, U.S. team bond over marathon
eugene, ore. — At a finish line she was not certain she would reach a few hours earlier, at the end of a race she didn’t know she would be running a few weeks ago, Keira D’amato saw two teammates waiting for her. Sara Hall and Emma Bates raised their hands over their heads and smiled. D’amato smiled back, stretched her arms and ran into their embrace.
The American women, two of them mothers in their late 30s, embraced at the world championship marathon as three of the 10 fastest marathoners in the world. Over about 2 hours 20 minutes, Hall, Bates and D’amato ran alongside one another, basked in cheers and smiled with greater frequency than most anyone running 26.2 miles would sanely dare.
Hall, a 39-year-old Californian, finished fifth in 2 hours 22 minutes 10 seconds — 3:59 behind champion Gotytom Gebreslase of Ethiopia (2:18:11). Bates, a 30-year-old who idolized Hall while growing up in Minnesota, set a personal best as she finished seventh in 2:23:18. D’amato was eighth in 2:23:34, a gargantuan accomplishment given her preparation.
Two weeks ago, Olympic bronze medalist Molly Seidel pulled out with an injury. D’amato, who set the American record in January following a seven-year hiatus that included the births of her two children, had been training for a 10-kilometer run — about 20 miles shorter than a marathon — but accepted instantly when offered Seidel’s place. She had never raced wearing a Team USA uniform. Thomas and Quin, her son and daughter, held signs and watched their mother fulfill an improbable dream.
“I was so proud of us,” D’amato said. “Being the caboose of Team USA and finishing eighth, that’s, like, freaking awesome. That was a really cool hug.”
She had defied convention her entire career. An Oakton High
graduate, D’amato turned professional as a miler after four allAmerican seasons at American. Injuries pushed her into retirement and a Realtor job in 2009. She tried her first marathon in 2013, and it went so poorly that she figured she wouldn’t try another. She had Thomas the next year, then Quin two years later.
She returned to distance running as a break from motherhood and gave marathons another shot. In 2017, she ran one in 2:47, rarefied air for distance runners. D’amato called her old coach and pushed her way into the elite distance circuit. In January, in a performance that stunned running circles, D’amato broke the American record, resetting it to 2:19:12. She refuses a training schedule that takes her away from her kids. She still works as a Realtor.
Why, then, would making her first national team come the normal way? On July 1, D’amato received a call asking if she would replace Seidel. As a kid, she would watch the Olympics and envision herself wearing “USA” across her chest. Her husband, Tony, served in the military for 16 years and remains a member of the Air National Guard. Now she could represent the United States in a different way.
“How can I say no?” D’amato said. “This has been a dream of mine since I was in the fourth grade — to wear red, white and blue.”
“I was crying,” Tony D’amato said. “I know how much this means to her, how much it means to her family. When she got the call, I knew what her answer would be right away. She would never turn this down. Never. It’s a dream come true. It’s a gift.”
It was a gift that presented challenges. Normally she would take two or three months to train for a marathon. If she took the normal runs she would in the weeks before a marathon, she would risk fatigue and injury.
Three days after she joined the team, D’amato took a 22-mile run. She knew she had retained some of the fitness from setting the American record six months ago. She ran between 60 and 70 miles during each week she had.
Meanwhile, Tony engaged in his own preparation. He had a National Guard drill the weekend after D’amato joined the team, followed by a work trip to Denver. As Thomas and Quin stayed with his parents and D’amato trained, Tony scrounged for last-minute airfare and hotels for eight family members.
“They’re like, ‘You know, you’re not giving us a lot of time to plan this trip,’ ” D’amato said. “I’m like: ‘I have to run a marathon! I do not feel bad for you trying to get plane tickets, okay?’ ”
“Probably overspent in some areas,” Tony said. “But we didn’t care.”
D’amato’s mother, Liane MacDowell, found a rental so close to the course that they could almost see it from the front yard. They used it as a base shuttling between viewing points along the loop. “There was an angel that got us that Airbnb,” Macdowell said.
As dawn broke Monday, D’amato walked with her teammates to the start area. Hall turned to Bates and D’amato. “Hey,” she said, “we want to work together, right?”
D’amato and Bates eagerly agreed. For the first half of the race, the trio ran next to one another, helping set one another’s pace. Their bond went beyond the course.
In 2015, Hall and her husband, Ryan, adopted four sisters from Ethiopia, now ages 11, 14, 18 and 22. She had never trained for a marathon in the summer, which meant she had never trained when her kids weren’t in school. When she returned from training runs, rather than enjoying the quiet, she had to be present as a parent.
“It’s hard,” Hall said. “We might make it look easy sometimes, but that’s a constant, trying to do both really well and be present as a parent and also just want to give everything to the sport. It’s impossible to do both sometimes.”
“She didn’t take the elaborate halftime show that I had,” D’amato said. “But we’re both mothers. We’re both in our late 30s. We’re both really proud to be able to represent the U.S., represent mothers, represent women.”
About a mile before the end of the second lap, Hall decided to try for a medal and broke away. She ran one mile in 4:57, a faster pace than she wanted, so energized by the crowd. At one point, she ran past her daughters on the rail and high-fived them.
“This is the most fun I’ve ever had in a marathon,” Hall said. “I wanted to smile as much as I could early on, because you know it’s going to turn into a grimace eventually. But I was even smiling that last lap.”
Bates views Hall and D’amato as inspirations. She wants to have children someday, and she plans on asking the two for advice on how to balance motherhood and running. “Just the fact they can come back not only running well but doing even better is something I admired them for,” Bates said. “I want to be more than a runner. They’re doing it.”
In the third and final loop through the neighborhoods around Autzen Stadium, Bates passed D’amato and sensed a personal best. At the finish line of her first world championships, Bates saw her idol waiting for her and the clock reading 2:23:18, her fastest time ever. It felt surreal.
D’amato had a harder journey to the finish. She had taken to laughing whenever she thought about running a marathon on two weeks’ notice. When the day arrived, she wondered if she would finish for “kind of the whole thing,” she said. At times, her body rejected fluids. At the end of the second lap, the crowd gathered around the eventual finish line exhorted runners.
“I was like: ‘ Maybe this is it? Maybe?’ ” D’amato said. “I started getting a little delusional, like: ‘Maybe they’ll just cut us off. We don’t need another loop.’ I was afraid to look down at my watch and see.”
D’amato slowed her pace but kept grinding. Her family shuffled around the course. They watched and screamed for her at the five-kilometer mark, then rushed toward the finish line.
“We thought we were going to have to pick up the kids,” Macdowell said. “As soon as Keira went by, we hauled, and we couldn’t even keep up with the kids. We made it here before the first-place finisher. It’s good DNA.”
As D’amato crossed, she saw the signs Thomas and Quin held — “Go Mommy!” — and embraced Bates and Hall.
“It’s a life experience they’ll never forget,” Tony said. “It’s also important for them to see the hard work it takes to get to this elite level. Those are life lessons you never forget.”
About a half-hour later, her family lingered at the finish. Quin, 5, sat on a family member’s shoulders. Thomas, 7, sucked on a big, star-shaped red lollipop and considered how he felt when he watched his mom.
“She’s the eighth-best runner in the whole world,” Thomas said. “She’s amazing. She’s awesome.”
On Monday night, Hayward Field hosted some of the best athletes at the championships. Kenyan Faith Kipyegon, perhaps the greatest miler ever, won her second 1,500-meter world title, which paired with the 28-year-old’s two Olympic gold medals. Venezuelan triple jumper Yulimar Rojas, perhaps the most dominant athlete here, followed her world record leap in Tokyo with a runaway gold medal. Qatari high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, won his third world championship.
Anna Hall is not on their level yet, but the 21-year-old Coloradan performs, talks and looks like a potential superstar. She foreshadowed a potential run at heptathlon gold in the 2024 Paris Olympics with a bronze medal performance, finished off with a victory in the 800-meter finale.
After she finished, Hall, who attends the University of Florida, found Jackie Joyner-kersee, an all-time great in her event, in the first row of the stands.
“She just said she was really proud of me and that she had fun watching me,” Hall said. “They showed me a clip of her watching me in the 800 meters, and she was jumping up and down. That was really, really cool.”