Exploration of cutting edge thinking and realistic mental tools and strategies which can help with our abilities to push ourselves further, be that in sporting or business settings, is an ongoing interest for Karen for the last thirty years. Learning from people’s experiences, and then testing them within real life scenarios, is really her passion. Her belief is that you can never stop learning, and also that you should never stop sharing knowledge, to aid the personal performance levels of others.

Academic Research
Karen’s academic research has primarily explored the effective cognitive coping tools employed by ultra-endurance athletes in various genres. In addition to this, the motivational strategies endurance athletes use to maintain the ongoing requirements for training and competition. Elite athletes such as K2 mountaineers, 100 mile + runners and deca-ironmen (completion of 10 x ironman distances in one ongoing event), took part in the in-depth, primarily qualitiative research, thereby providing insightful knowledge relating to effective planning strategies and ‘brain games’ to provide the chance for optimal performance levels and success. Karen’s passion for learning more about the elements surrounding coping and mental toughness, plus her participation in ultra-endurance exploits continues.

PhD (2015): Effective Coping Mechanisms of Elite Ultra-Endurance Athletes

Background: The compulsion to test one’s endurance capacity is widespread in modern society, demonstrated for example by the increased participation rates within adventure sports (Jirasek, 2007). Psychologically based evidence within the corpus reveals that effective coping mechanisms, conducive to elite ultra-endurance athletes performance, is limited. Objectives: The aims of the research were three-fold. Firstly, clarification of the stressors elite endurance athletes encounter during their sporting disciplines was sought. Secondly, the study aimed to establish specific, effective coping mechanisms which these athletes implement to overcome stressors. 

A coping framework was then developed from the information gleaned from the gathered data. Finally, the effectiveness of specific coping mechanisms was illuminated, and the coping framework was tested for accuracy. The overall aim of the research was to provide performers and sports psychologists with a comprehensive framework for managing and guiding ultra-endurance based athletes. Method: A mixed methods approach was implemented. A qualitative research approach, guided by grounded theory was employed to contextualize the complexities of elite ultra-endurance athletes coping methods. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with an international cohort of elite, information rich specialists, specifically mountaineers (N=10) and ultra-distance runners (N=8). 

Participants also completed the Athletic Skills and Coping Inventory for Sport questionnaire (ASCI-28; Smith et al., 1995). In addition, a case study was adopted to investigate the effectiveness of specific coping tools and test the accuracy of the coping model. Findings: Stressors emerged from personal (e.g., fear), organisational (e.g., social support) and competitive (e.g., opponents) sources, supporting past literature (e.g., Fletcher & Sarkar, 2012). Coping emerged from emotion (e.g., self-talk), approach (e.g., imagery), problem (e.g., goal setting) and appraisal (e.g., self-deception) based approaches. Stressors were linked to specific, effective coping mechanisms, and the benefits of contemporary coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness and meditation, were illuminated. The value of the coping framework for endurance athletes was verified. Recommendations for future research include further exploration into mindfulness as an effective coping mechanism for endurance athletes.

Additional previous research:

MSc (2004): Cognitive Coping Strategies and Motivational profiles of Endurance Athletes
BSc (1994): Inner City Children Involved in Outdoor Education: The Benefits

Current research (2022):
Auto-ethnographical investigation exploring POST-ultra-endurance coping. Karen will share these findings when the research has been completed.


Additional insights relating to academia:

Karen received an honorary Doctorate from the University of Ulster in June 2022 in recognition of her successful row across the Atlantic.