Tons of athletes have a single pair of socks they just have to wear for every big game. Or maybe it’s a lucky headband they have to put on, or a song they need to listen to before starting. Whatever the token may be, for many athletes, superstition reigns supreme.

For pro marathoner Keira D’Amato, that lucky token was a specific shirt she had to wear to bed each night before a race. But when she packed for the Houston Marathon earlier this year, she decided not to take it.

“I was like, Why am I putting any weight on this? It’s not going to matter if I wear this shirt or not. I’m super fit. That’s really what matters,” D’Amato, who will be running the New York City Marathon on November 6, tells SELF. “It felt really good because it took all the power out of an inanimate object.”

Turns out she was right: On January 16, D’Amato won the Houston Marathon, breaking the American record in that distance by running 2:19:12, improving on the previous time set by Deena Kastor 16 years earlier.

“I didn’t need the shirt to run fast, and I proved it,” she says. “Don’t let anything take away from how hard you’ve worked to get there.”

The last few years have shown the results of that hard work, and the record in Houston—which stood until October, when Emily Sisson broke it at the Chicago Marathon—marked one of many breakthroughs in an inspiring comeback journey for the four-time American University all-American athlete, as SELF reported previously.

Following a series of injuries, the 38-year-old walked away from the sport in 2009 and took a seven-year hiatus, embracing other pursuits outside of running. She got married, became a mom, and kicked off a real estate career in Virginia. But her love for running called her back. In 2020, the beginning of an unexpected resurgence began to take shape. D’Amato finished 15th at the US Olympic Marathon Trials, shattered her collegiate personal best in the 5,000 meters, and broke her first American record (this one in the 10-mile distance). In February 2021, at the age of 36, she signed her first pro contract.

And D’Amato is looking to build on that momentum. Just six weeks after placing sixth in the Berlin Marathon, D’Amato will line up at NYC this weekend. The short racing turnaround was on the table for months, but it became official after D’Amato failed to lower her American record in Berlin (which Sisson ended up breaking two weeks later).

The hills on the New York City Marathon course make it unideal for record attempts, and D’Amato says her goal for this weekend is just “to compete.” She’s not quite sure exactly what that will look like in New York, but she is hoping her performance will improve upon Berlin.

“I got so hyper-focused on my plan for the day that I wasn’t really reacting to the race itself,” she says. “For [New York], I want to be totally present in the moment, competing and leaving it all out there.”