The globe-trotting ultra marathoner brings a wealth of experience and similar coaching philosophy to the Marathon Training Academy coaching group.
Sports had always been a part of Dominique Hamel’s life. Collegiate soccer. Basketball AAA.
Then life took over and she became busy with her three daughters and career, working as an economist with the Canadian government. She felt overweight and exhausted.
Thanks to a friend’s inspiration, Hamel took up running and has now finished nearly 60 marathons and 13 ultras. Now, the newest Marathon Training Academy coach is looking to inspire other runners.
It all started with a shiny medal
One day when Hamel was juggling her commitments to family and work, her neighbor showed her the medal she earned at a Disney Marathon. “That’s when I knew that I wanted one!”
They began running together, five minutes at a time, braving the brutal Canadian winters. Hamel ran her first half marathon the following fall in Niagara Falls and loved it. “At the time, I believed this was the ideal distance. However, when we moved to South Africa, I joined a club and fell in love with running longer distances.”
Her first marathon, in Soweto, got her hooked on longer distances.
“We ran past not only Nelson Mandela’s home, but Desmond Tutu’s as well. That’s when I saw an entire new side of running: traveling and exploring.”
Even though she has finished 10 half marathons, nearly 60 marathons and about a dozen ultras, one race is particularly important to the resident of South Africa.
“If you live in South Africa you can’t escape Comrades,” she said. “It is a must: a rite of passage. Everything pushed toward Comrades, starting with the race calendar. It took me four years to get ready for that race, as before that, my longest distance was a mere 13.1 miles. Not only did I need to work on building my stamina, but also my confidence.”
Comrades (56 miles or about 89 kilometers) is the world’s oldest and largest ultra. But it’s so much more than that.
“The support you get from runners and spectators is amazing,” Hamel said. “On the day everybody is out on course doing a Braai (BBQ), celebrating with runners every step of the way. The race is more than just a physical challenge. To run such a distance, your mind and soul have to be disciplined. Despite this, I loved every minute. Ultras challenge every part of you. I love the fact that at my level, it is more of an event rather than a race.”
‘I always wanted to coach’
Even as her running journey expanded, Hamel led a hectic life. She made time to jump into various running groups as her family moved around. She was chairwoman of the Pirates Running Club in South Africa, organized special running events in Switzerland and is vice president of her current club, The North Jersey Masters.
“I always wanted to coach,” she said. “We moved so often that I never really had time to learn where to get certified and start my own business. “At the North Jersey Masters club, I began coaching my friends. But this passion for coaching pushed me to take courses and eventually become RCAA and USATF certified. All these courses finally added up to what I can call my version of paradise. I am doing what I love and can spread this love of running to the people surrounding me.”
Her philosophy is simple: Believe in better.
“My coaching philosophy is very much based upon my own experiences as a runner but has evolved to encompass my athletic education and uncompromising approach toward an athlete’s health; short-term gains cannot be obtained by conceding long-term development,” Hamel emphasized. “I like to think that I am more than a coach, but that I am also a mentor. I hope that I can teach my runners to love and enjoy the sport while improving their running abilities, such as learning to compete.”
During her global travels, Hamel has noted differences in coaching approaches and training techniques.
“In France and Switzerland, they focused more on time than mileage,” she said. “During these workouts, they paid attention to their heart rates and paces. Every differentiating pace was important during each workout. On the other hand, South Africans are all about mileage, gearing up for Comrades.”
She notes that runners who are willing to put in the time and are patient will be able to complete ultras. “Running an ultra marathon takes time, commitment and discipline,” Hamel said. “You need to want it and be able to envision yourself crossing that finish line. It is like a relationship — whatever you put in to it, it will give back 10 times. But don’t be foolish, you must give the utmost respect for the distance.”
Joining a community of shining stars
Hamel, a Marathon Training Academy podcast listener, jumped at the opportunity to join the MTA coaching lineup.
“Trevor and Angie Spencer are such a vibrant, energetic couple,” she said. “When I heard that they were looking for coaches, I knew I could be a good fit. I shared their philosophy: they care about their runners as people, and people with busy lives. Most importantly, they always praise their runners, no matter their skill level. To them, you’re always a shining star as long as you did your best. And that motivated me to apply for the position.”
She notes that coaches are not just for elite athletes. Everyday runners with goals from finishing their first 5K to qualifying for the Boston Marathon can benefit form individualized coaching that MTA offers.
“Many beginner runners do not realize the benefits a private coach can have on performance and health,” Hamel said. “You want to run to be able to run another day. A running coach takes the thinking and planning out of the equation. A private coach helps you through the hard days and guides you through the easy ones. Your workouts are designed for you and your level of fitness.”
Inspiration at every turn
As an athlete, Hamel’s bucket list includes completing 100-mile races and running until she turns 80 years old. As a coach, her goals are to “meet my athletes’ goals without compromising long-term development.”
“I believe that every runner must be inspired by someone,” Hamel said. “I hope my passion for the sport reflects in my daily life, upon which I base my style of coaching. I love giving back to my community.”
A prime example of giving back is her role as an Achilles International guide for runners at the New York City Marathon, which she has done three times.
“At first, I thought I was almost cheating the system as I was enjoying the experience so much,” she recalled. “Two years ago, I guided a cancer survivor who had to run with a back brace and had 10 percent of his lungs left. It took us 9.5 hours. Not only was he exhausted, but he got sick and we had to stop at medical tent. He told me, “’Please don’t let them pull me out of the race.’”
The runner struggled — vomiting and stopping to rearrange his brace along the way — but he finished the race.
“I was so physically and mentally drained,” Hamel remembered. “I hope that as a runner and as a coach, I can find a way to make runners believe in themselves, and most importantly, make a difference, as I did as an Achilles guide.”
Name: Dominique Hamel
Hometown: Grand’Mere, Quebec, Canada
Number of years running: 18 years
How many miles a week do you typically run: 40-50 miles
Point of pride: My daughters
Favorite race distance: Marathon
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Maple syrup in oatmeal. Homemade gel and sport drinks with Maple syrup.
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Great Heart by Johnny Clegg
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Go with the flow like H2O
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