Sara Hall, Emma Bates and Keira D’Amato in women’s marathon top 10

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EUGENE, Ore. — At a finish line she wasn’t sure she’d reach a few hours earlier, at the end of a race she didn’t know she was running a few weeks ago, Keira D’Amato saw two teammates waiting for her. Sara Hall and Emma Bates raised their hands above their heads and smiled. D’Amato smiled back, stretched his arms and ran into their embrace.

The Americans, including two mothers in their late thirties, entered the world championship marathon as three of the 10 fastest marathon runners in the world. For about 2 hours 20 minutes, Hall, Bates and D’Amato ran alongside each other, feasted on cheers and smiled more frequently than most people running 26.2 miles would reasonably dare to. .

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 growing up in Minnesota, set a personal best finishing seventh in 2:23:18. D’Amato finished eighth in 2:23:34, a gargantuan feat considering his preparation.

Two weeks ago, Olympic bronze medalist Molly Seidel retired with an injury. D’Amato, who set the American record in January after a seven-year hiatus that included the birth of her two children, had trained for a 10-kilometre race – 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 unlikely dream.

“I was so proud of us,” D’Amato said. “Being the caboose of Team USA and finishing eighth is really great. It was a really cool hug.

She had defied convention her entire career. A graduate of Oakton High, D’Amato turned pro as a miler after four all-American seasons at American. Injuries pushed her into retirement and a job as a realtor in 2009. She attempted her first marathon in 2013, and it went so badly she thought she wouldn’t try one. another. She had Thomas the following 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, a rarity for distance runners. D’Amato called his old trainer and worked his 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 program that takes her away from her children. She still works as a real estate agent.

Why, then, would making his first national team happen normally? On July 1, D’Amato received a call asking if she would replace Seidel. As a child, she watched the Olympics and imagined wearing “USA” on 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. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was in CM1: to wear red, white and blue.”

“I was crying,” Tony D’Amato said. “I know how much it means to her, how much it means to her family. When she got the call, I knew right away what her answer would be. She would never refuse that. Never. It’s a dream come true. It’s a gift.”

It was a challenging gift. Normally, it would take her two or three months to train for a marathon. If she did the normal runs she would do in the weeks leading up to a marathon, she would risk getting tired and injured.

She is 37 years old. Mom of two children. And America’s fastest marathon runner.

Three days after joining the team, D’Amato has covered 22 miles. She knew she had retained some of her fitness after setting the American record six months ago. She ran between 60 and 70 miles in every week she had.

Meanwhile, Tony engaged in his own preparation. He had a National Guard exercise the weekend after D’Amato joined the team, followed by a work trip to Denver. While Thomas and Quin stayed with his parents and D’Amato trained, Tony was looking for last-minute plane tickets 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 don’t 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 to shuttle between viewpoints along the loop. “There was an angel who gave us this Airbnb,” MacDowell said.

At dawn on Monday, D’Amato marched with her teammates to the starting area. Hall turned to Bates and D’Amato. “Hey,” she said, “we want to work together, don’t we?”

D’Amato and Bates eagerly agreed. For the first half of the race, the trio ran alongside each other, helping to set each other’s pace. Their bond went beyond the course.

In 2015, Hall and her husband, Ryan, adopted four Ethiopian sisters, now ages 11, 14, 18 and 22. She had never trained for a marathon this summer, which meant she never trained when her kids were away. school. When she returned from practice runs, rather than enjoying the quiet, she had to be present as a parent.

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“It’s tough,” Hall said. “We can sometimes make it seem like it’s easy, but it’s a constant, trying to do well at the same time and being present as a parent and also wanting to give everything to the sport. Sometimes it’s impossible to do both.

“She didn’t take the elaborate halftime show that I had,” D’Amato said. “But we are both mothers. We are both in our late thirties. We are both very proud to be able to represent the United States, represent mothers, represent women.

About a mile before the end of the second lap, Hall decided to try for a medal and escaped. She ran a mile in 4:57, a faster pace than she wanted to, so spurred on by the crowd. At one point, she passed her daughters on the rail and clapped their hands.

“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a marathon,” Hall said. “I wanted to smile as much as possible at first, because you know it will eventually turn into a grimace. But I was smiling even on the last lap.

Bates considers Hall and D’Amato inspirations. She wants to have kids one day, and she plans to ask the two for advice on how to balance motherhood and running. “Just the fact that they can come back not just running but doing even better is something I admired them for,” Bates said. “I want to be more than a runner. They do.

On the third and final loop through the neighborhoods around Autzen Stadium, Bates passed D’Amato and felt a personal best. At the finish line of his first world championships, Bates saw his idol waiting for him and the clock showed 2:23:18, his best time ever. It was surreal.

D’Amato had a more difficult journey to the finish. She’d laughed every time she thought about running a marathon on two weeks’ notice. When the day arrived, she wondered if she would end up for “a little bit of everything,” she said. Sometimes his body was throwing up fluids. At the end of the second lap, the crowd gathered around the eventual finish line to urge the riders.

“I thought, ‘Maybe that’s 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 at my watch and see.

D’Amato slowed his pace but continued to grind. His family moved around the course. They looked at her and shouted for her at the five kilometer mark, then rushed to the finish line.

“We thought we were going to have to get the kids back,” MacDowell said. “As soon as Keira passed, we fired, and we couldn’t even follow the children. We did it here before the first place. It’s good DNA.

As D’Amato walked through, she saw the signs Quin and Thomas were holding – “Come on mom!” – and kissed Bates and Hall.

“It’s a lifetime experience they’ll never forget,” Tony said. “It’s also important for them to see the hard work it takes to get to that elite level. These are life lessons you will never forget.

About half an hour later, her family lingered on arrival. Five-year-old Quin sat on the shoulders of a family member. Thomas, 7, sucked on a big red star-shaped lollipop and reflected on how he felt looking at his mum.

“She is the eighth best runner in the whole world,” Thomas said. “She’s amazing. She’s awesome.”

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