The three biggest takeaways from Keira D'Amato's 2:19:12
At least if you're a great runner who wants to succeed in the long term
Keira D’Amato broke Deena Kastor’s 2006 American marathon record by 24 seconds in Houston this morning with a time of 2 hr 19 min 12 sec (the accomplishment is worth international styling). She ran so fast that Sara Hall, having just broken the American half-marathon record herself with a 1:07:15, had to be thinking “I’ll enjoy it while it lasts” after D’Amato crossed the finish line less than an hour later at the same event. In no universe does a 2:19:12 marathon herald any worse than a 1:06:45, ceteris paribus.
But the three most instructive things about D’Amato’s success from the perspective of, say, a top U.S. collegiate distance runner who sees her future in the marathon have nothing to do with how objectively spectacular 2:19:12 is. And the effect of supershoes is not among them—the way those are rewriting top marathon lists isn’t news to anyone at this point, despite a reluctance to fully embrace how good they are at their persisting even in the minds of people who race in them exclusively.
The take-home lessons are: You don’t need to be part of a dedicated training group like the Bowerman Track Club to reach the top level as a professional road racer (and this probably applies to track runners, too); it’s not a big deal to run really fast after having kids; and it’s not a big deal—especially for women—to reach or maintain peak lifetime fitness in your late thirties.
The days of someone with a college degree being unable to find, at a minimum, some kind of sit-down job that allows him or her to meet expenses while training at full capacity ended a long time ago. Unlike the case for elite swimmers, cyclists and triathletes, no runner can average much more than two hours of training a day and thrive even if sleeping and eating occupies the rest of the quotidian clock.
D’Amato is not the only example of an Olympic-caliber marathon runner who has a demanding and engaging career. Jared Ward teaches a cool kind of math at BYU. The 2018 Boston Marathon men’s champion famously broke 2:10:00 at least a dozen times as a working stiff. The only exceptional thing about them is the running community’s need to see them as exceptions rather than role models.
The allure of not being part of a training group, with all the obligatory drama it entails, has to be strong in the mind of a collegian talented enough to have a lot of professional options ahead of her, but leery of living in a given city amid people she may already know she won’t click with. If someone can have the coaching, the gear, the training environment of her choice, and everyone she loves most around her—all while avoiding being financially dependent on any sponsors, and having to publicly respond to, say, the doping ban of a teammate and neighbor—then it seems like an easy call to me.
The problem is that most college students are not capable of thinking this way. They get used to group-style training and living and gossipy bullshit as NCAA runners, and if they have had good college careers—as is obviously true of anyone who winds up at, say, the BTC or NAZ Elite—then what would seem chaotic to most adults over 30 is merely a continuation in many ways of the same social-athletic environment. Maybe Ward being at BYU, one of the few colleges where it’s not unusual for students to marry and start having kids before they even graduate, helped foster such a perspective in him at a younger age.
It is also time for people to stop treating women who run extremely fast after having kids, and are active mothers in their children’s lives, as outliers. This is basically a white Western thing—pushing the idea that motherhood and success at something else implies having beaten an invisible system, even in 2021.
Edna Kiplagat won the 2017 Boston Marathon as a mother of five—two children she gave birth to, her late sister’s two kids, and another child she adopted after it was orphaned. Marathon world record-holder Brigid Koskei had twins as a teenager. Mary Keitany was raising a boy and a girl when she set the women’s only WR of 2:17:01 in 2017.
Finally, 37 is not old for a marathoner. Hall is running better than ever. Eliud Kipchoge officially turned 37 in November and is probably a couple years older than that. I would like to think this fact is, or is quickly becoming, common knowledge, but active efforts to combat it from “OH PUT ME OUT TO PASTURE ALREADY” media narcissists don’t help. Today’s cadre of New York Times columnists were washed up from the moment they emerged from the womb.
Because it’s in Women’s Running, this article has a stupid headline, and its content is not helpful. D’Amato’s “secret to success” is not “fun and family.” A lot of runners have that in place, but unless they’re talented and train their asses off, it doesn’t matter. D’Amato’s talent is self-evident, but the story includes no details about her training, just a link to D’Amato’s Strava profile. (According to that profile, D’Amato did not exceed 85 miles in any one week in the past year. I find this difficult to believe.)
The important point the article does stumble across is that being as comfortable as you can while busting your ass is vital. Some people find it empowering to work full-time jobs and beat people they know are bragging about being professional athletes. Some people want to run the same eleven-mile loop they’ve been running every Sunday since age 17 until the day they can no longer move. You can be healthy and train hard for a few years without experiencing great performance gains if that extra competitive oomph just isn’t there when you need it.
For some athletes, that oomph might be the sense of freedom and relief a complete life away from running can provide even to someone at the professional level. If Nike ceased to exist this second, D’Amato would experience little more than a ripple. For the time being, she’s one of few at her level who could say that about the company who makes what they put on their feet on race day.