Athlete Case Study: Karen Rice

Triathlete celebrating finishing an Ironman
January 29, 2021

Jim Hallberg



Creative Training Yields Great Results in this D3 Athlete Case Study about Karen Rice

We know that training in 2020 looked different for everyone, and as a coach, I had to reinvent the training game plan for each of the athletes I work with. What I tried to emphasise was: find the fun, do what makes you happy, keep moving and stay healthy. As we take a look at D3 athlete Karen Rice, she found a whole lot of opportunities that made her happy!

Karen is an athlete in the 40-45 age group. She ran a Boston Marathon qualifying time last December at 3:38! She is a lifelong athlete, and her background includes competitive college softball, she loves skiing, and finding her limitless limits in triathlon.

This past year through mountain biking and trail running she found her outlet. And why not? It’s a fantastic crossover for triathlon. As long as you don't crash, trip, or stumble!

Below is a 2 year review of Karen’s training PMC chart that reflects nice builds and valleys. The difference from PEAK CTL in 2019 to 2020 was an 18% gain! In this case study we are going to specifically look more closely at her last peak from October 2020 and how she made such incredible gains.

In the second image, you can see things a bit closer. Karen took a bit of a break for some personal time and when she returned to steady training decided to take time off from training on the roads. With the realization that all of her intended IRONMAN races in 2020 were not going to happen, she focused on having fun with trail runs and mountain biking.

As a coach, I notice that athletes can get frustrated by the transition between road to trail in that their pace or speed is so much slower on a trail, and they get deflated. But I remind them, the work, even just focusing to stay on task on a trail is significant! Trail running can be mentally and physically exhausting. Your focus and your small muscle groups, tendons and ligaments are worked! We noticed some of those changes with Karen’s training too.

In a 4 week block, she spent between 17, 27 , 23 and 19 hrs on training. Half running on trails and on her mountain biking and the other half on road running/cycling. She had just a few interval specific sessions in her training. There was no power meter to gauge effort during the mountain biking and so much of her training was by feel. She recovered very well and was able to repeat. She found herself sleeping over 12 hours on some nights! This is training similar to a single week long D3 camp, but she did it for four consecutive weeks! Due to restrictions of pool access, swimming was the limiter, but that didn’t hold her back.

We decided to allow the terrain she was using to determine the effort and outcome. Her gravel rides became recovery rides and whatever the trails delivered, that dictated things. We incorporated traditional ‘race’ pace and ‘tempo’ efforts, but Karen was able to decide when and where to apply those efforts and for how long depending on the terrain. I would often give her an amount of time for an RPE (for example: get 45 minutes of RPE 7-8 effort during the entire workout); and she would get it done on rolling or hilly terrain for as long as the terrain or she dictated the effort to be. So while it was mixed up throughout the ride or run it still achieved the workout objective.

By November, Karen was pretty excited and just knew she was the fittest she had ever been.  We can see this growth in fitness from her training CTL as above, However, this does not reflect improvement in power or pace, as again most of her training was done off-road. And that brings me to an important point. By disconnecting from your training data, you become more in tune to your personal intensity levels and are able to adapt accordingly, even your nutrition. By letting go of the data, you can simply run where you can run and hike when you need to hike. Karen shared, “all the hiking helped my tissue resiliency.” And this strategy paid dividends for her.

Karen signed up for a 50-mile trail run and placed 6th overall! This was not a planned race for her, but a huge reward for the creative training she did and for having the fortitude to adapt to everything 2020 threw at her.

Coach Jim Hallberg believes that every one of us has the capacity to improve our efficiency, get stronger and run, bike or swim faster. Sure, it takes time, dedication and discipline but it’s possible. Working with an experienced coach can make sure that your efforts are targeted in the right areas to make sure you reach those goals!

Coach Jim's Credentials include:

  • USA Triathlon Certified Coach
  • USA Cycling Certified Coach
  • Training Peaks Level 2 Certified Coach

Coach Jim Hallberg notices that some athletes spend too much time focusing solely on their strengths or just on their weaknesses. As a coach, he believes you should work on both. Your strengths can give you a competitive edge in one or more of the disciplines but spend an inordinate amount of time on them and you can forgo progress in other areas. Not enough time and you’ll see them diminish. Same with your weaknesses.  Coach Jim works with you to build a plan to balance the two and make you the best overall athlete you can be!

Coach Jim is a 5X USA Triathlon National Champion, a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach and USA Cycling Level II Certified Coach.

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