Keira D’Amato will represent Team USA in August when she competes in the 2023 World Championship Marathon in Budapest, but while she’s at the top of her game right now, a series of injuries had forced her to take a hiatus from running altogether. Fortunately, successful surgery and discovering other sports helped her to make a welcome return and so she is now speedily chasing gold once again.
The world-class runner sat down with M&F Hers to explain the activities and training that have improved her performance, and it turns out that you can become a faster runner without actually going for one.
D’Amato is a four-time All-American and an 11-time Patriot league champion, blazing a trail while at American University where she competed in cross-country and track. However, after leaving college, she was forced to step aside due to a debilitating injury. Fortunately, she returned to the sport in 2009 and has been back on top ever since. In 2020, D’Amato proved that she was still an unstoppable force at age 36, by claiming the “world best” time in the women’s 10-mile distance (51 minutes and 23 seconds).
A year later, she won the Houston Marathon in another record-blasting time of 2 hours, 19 minutes and 12 seconds. With many more races yet to run in her remarkable career, D’Amato will never forget the injuries that almost brought her to a halt. “I had something called a ‘tarsal coalition,’” she says. “It was causing repetitive stress fractures in my foot. The only remedy for this was surgery, but unfortunately my insurance, in 2008, said it was a pre-existing condition and refused to cover it. That’s when I quit the sport and I really thought that I was gone for good. I started working at Freddie Mac, and they had great health insurance! I got the surgery in 2009.”
While D’Amato had to quit running, she never gave up on sports. When she finally returned in 2016, staying active proved to be highly beneficial. Here’s what helped to shape the rounded runner that she has become today.
Participate in Other Sports
D’Amato may not have been going on runs, but during her time away, she got heavily into other sports such as soccer, and used her legs none the less. “I think some of the best runners now, started as athletes playing various sports,” she says. “Running is extremely repetitive, using the same muscles over and over again. It’s important to activate other muscles and make sure that some don’t get too dominant or too weak. By playing different sports, you develop and strengthen muscles that help you to stay healthy and strong for running. Soccer also taught me more about competition and I sprinted a ton, developing those fast twitch muscles, running for 90 minutes and building endurance. Soccer is such an awesome sport for overall fitness. It’s funny though, when I look back at my time playing soccer, I realize that I was destined to be a runner! If we were losing a game, I’d think, ‘sure, we are losing this game, but if it was a race around the field, I’d definitely win that!’”
Supplement Cleanly for Success
“I am very in tune with my body’s needs,” says the 38-year-old. “I do a blood panel analysis with InsideTracker every two to three months. Mainly, I try to get what my body needs through nutrition, but working out as much as I do, it’s nearly impossible. I take vitamin D every day and this blows my mind because I am outside so much, but my vitamin D levels are still low. I also take collagen in my coffee every morning plus iron, omega oil, and cosamin supplements. But I am super careful to make sure that I consume only supplements that are approved for clean sport.”
Get Your Head Straight
Your mental performance is just as important as your physical ability, but finding synergy takes time. D’Amato says that by running and then having a break in her career before returning, she’s learned a great deal about having the right mentality. Here’s the athlete’s take home tips, in her own words:
- Accept Failure: Learn from it and move on. Being OK with failure allows you to risk big and go for it. A big element to my success!
- Courage to Start: Anything awesome starts with the courage to set the goal, the courage to get dressed and get going, and the courage to do it again and again!
- Focus on Progress: I want to be better than I was last week, and that’s not necessarily my “best ever” all of the time. I focus on little improvements and if you add those little improvements together, it creates something really special!
- Patience: This is the secret sauce! Nothing happens overnight. Anything can happen if you are patient and build up slowly. It’s funny though, because I hate giving this advice… because it’s just not sexy. We want it all now, but it really is key: be patient!
- Have Fun: I mean, what’s the alternative here? Not have fun? Pass! Have fun and enjoy the ride. Listen to something. Grab some headphones and put on a podcast, audiobook, or music. Distract your mind from the ‘suck’. Mix it up. Change your run route, change your pace, change who you run with, change the cardio. Try switching out a run for rowing or swimming. Just keep it fun!
Add Strength and Conditioning to Your Weekly Regime
“It’s so important to strengthen other muscles outside of running,” says D’Amato. “Since running is so repetitive, my body is always looking for ways to be more efficient. This can create lots of issues where there is a strength imbalance. Even though my glutes are some of my strongest muscles, they tend to turn off if not reminded to activate. I do a lot of exercises and strength training outside of running to make sure that all my muscles are staying engaged. The Hydrow indoor rower is a great way to wake up those glute muscles and make sure that they are pulling their load. I’ve also found, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve needed to lower my overall mileage each week, but I still want to get that cardio and exercise in, so I’ve been supplementing running with rowing and swimming. Rowing is a workout where you get bang for your buck. Nearly all of your muscles are activated and working when rowing or swimming. I can also do Pilates and strength workouts on the Hydrow.
Don’t Forget to Strengthen Your Feet
“I do a lot of exercises to strengthen my feet and ankles. The stronger and more stable your feet are, the less wiggling will happen in your knees,” says D’Amato, who does a lot of barefoot walking drills “Walking on my toes and heels in differing variations; I do one thing called a monster walk, not sure if that’s the formal name or if I made that up… because I look creepy doing it!” D’Amato, when not scaring the kids, also practices toe yoga (really, it’s a thing!). I’ll do toe yoga while standing in line, or watching dishes, chances are if I am standing and talking to you, I’m doing toe yoga then too!”