Catriona Morrison, triathlete and duathlete

On Thursday 19 July, we hosted a live webchat with Great British duathlete and Macmillan Supporter Catriona Morrison. Cat has represented Great Britain in both duathlons and triathlons and has brought home lots of medals, including a gold medal at the 2010 Duathlon World Championships in Edinburgh.

Lots of people came along to ask questions, including many fundraisers planning to do the London Duathlon for Macmillan. Cat answered questions on triathlons, duathlons and Ironman competitions, sharing her tips on training, equipment and mental preparation.

Many thanks to Cat for her answers, and good luck to all our London duathlon participants!

You can read more duathlon tips from Cat on our website, or visit her own website at

I'm signed up for the London Duathlon in September and I’m in hearing any tips. It's my first one so mostly I'm wondering how hard to push the initial run.

You should run so that you are comfortable, probably not as fast as in an all-out running race. You need to find a pace where you know that you have more in the tank.

Makes sense. Is the course quite flat?

I’m not too sure but, given the location, I imagine that it is flat.

Someone told me that cycling can actually be bad for you if you're a runner - unless you train the right way. Is this true?

No at all; cycling provides excellent cross-training benefits and can enhance your running. You just need to make sure that you have a well-fitting bike to start with!

How soon before a race can you eat? For example, if it starts in the morning, would it still be OK to have breakfast?

I would have breakfast in the morning - try this out in training. Have your normal breakkie and then see how long it feels for you to be good for exercise. You should always make sure that you have enough energy in the tank - even if you have to get up earlier!

What breakfast would you typically have before a race?

I tend to have toast and a banana and some honey; coffee and a sports drink. Everyone is different and this is why you should try things out in training.

I've been trawling the internet for duathlon training plans for a beginner.  I'm doing the Classic 55k distance at the London Duathlon.  Can you recommend any websites that might be a good place to look? 

There are lots of good resources - tri247 often has links and the publication Triathlon 220 has good links too. 

I just wondered if there is an essential equipment/clothing that you couldn't do without for your training and also for the events?

I can't live without a good pair of cycling shorts to protect my bum in training. For the race, a good pair of tri shorts that you can run and cycle in are great. And a rain jacket this summer...

I have a hybrid bike, so nothing like a top-of-the-range road bike. Am I putting myself at a big disadvantage by using it for my first triathlon? Should I get a sleeker model?

I was just going to ask something similar! I did my first tri last year with a mountain bike and felt like every man and his dog was whizzing by on super sleek bikes.

No bling required! Just a bike that is roadworthy and fits you - if you enjoy the experience you can always think about pimping up your ride later. The best investment is some "slick" non knobbly tires - these will make you go faster! Slicks are a good way of increasing speed for little investment - ask a bike shop, they’ll be able to help.

Would you also recommend a service before a race?

Yes, you want to be safe and to be safe for the others in the race too - and to prevent a "mechanical" that would out a dampener on your day.

Any tips for readying the muscles groups for the transition?

Move the bike into an easier gear a few minutes before transition to get some more blood flowing and the legs moving faster.

Any tips to reduce the wobbly legs effect after the transition?

I'm afraid wobbly legs happen to the very best - the only way to get better is to do some bike-running in training. You may not get better but you will get used to the feeling.

So both disciplines in the same training session as often as possible?

Yes, both disciplines in same training session - at least once per week.

I would love to know how to get more confidence on the bike with descents; I slow down too much.

Practice makes perfect for confidence on the bike - I think that asking a more skilled friend to let you follow them on the bike and learn by doing is a great way to get better.

Do you spend an equal amount of time training for running and cycling? 

I spend more time cycling at the moment, for Ironman, but for duathlon, I also prefer to spend a little more time on the bike, as I can do more without being so beaten as I would get in running.

A less technical question - what has been your favourite course or location?

I love any course with hills - I loved triathlon Alpe d’Huez last year and St Croix, where there is a mighty steep hill about half way through the bike section. 

Tri suits? Are they really beneficial to wear? I'm too scared to even try one because of what I might look like!

The thing is that everyone goes through the same thing with the tri suit. I would say have a good pair of shorts with a light pad and a close-fitting top. Only invest in a tri suit if you start to take the sport more seriously.

Is there any other form of exercise that you would recommend to help prepare for a duathlon that doesn't involve running or cycling?  I'm just wondering whether swimming or Pilates would be beneficial to help mix up training. I'm already getting a bit bored of continuously running/cycling and there's still a long way to go!

Mixing training is always good to prevent injury. Pilates is good for injury prevention, too, and swimming for cardio benefit.  I also use the cross trainer in the gym for a good cardio workout without pounding the legs.

Do you have a preference over triathlons and duathlons?

I like them both, although I have to say that I like any event where I am successful! So it depends when you ask me... 

In a triathlon, do you just pull your riding shorts over wet swimmers and let the wind dry you down?

I wear a suit that I can run and swim in - so no change required. You can pull on your shorts - it can be tricky when you are wet. The key is that you are happy and confident in what you are wearing.

I have done a triathlon (Olympic) before and marathons; I feel it's time to attempt an Ironman but I fear the training will take over my life. Realistically, does it?

The training for Ironman does take more time away from your "life" but you may develop a new kind of social life through Ironman. Like everything, keeping to good schedules will help maintain work-life balance.

Would it be advisable to try a half Ironman first and build up, or just go for it and do a full Ironman? There's certainly a lot more half Ironman events out there now.

I have seen people thrive on the challenge of attempting Ironman from not much triathlon experience, but also there are those that gradually build up. The truth is that, as long as the training is in the bank, you can do it either way - some like to take the plunge!

Could you remind us what the Ironman distance is?

It’s a 3.8km swim, an 180km bike ride, a marathon, and a long sleep and a beer afterwards!

Yikes! How do you keep going mentally with all that lot?

It’s all about focusing on the moment and what you can do in that moment - the trick is one step at a time and not to fixate on how far away the finish line is. 

I am doing a duathlon in September. Any tips for completing the 10k run?

Make sure that you have at least a couple of training runs at 10k distance in the bag already. I like to attack the run in bite size stages, and tick off the kilometres as I go. Start conservatively and, if you feel strong, build the pace up as you go.

The swimming element I find the hardest. I'm a weak swimmer - do you have tips of getting stronger?

Technique, technique, technique. Find a lesson or a coach or a friend to help you with how you swim  - this will give you the best return on training investment.

What’s your next race?

I would love to be racing, but I have had an awful 2012 for various reasons! I have bilateral Achilles problems, which look like I may be racing for surgery in the near future.

When the going gets really tough, do you have any kind of motivational mottos you say to yourself in your head to help you dig deep and keep going?

My mantra is: fitter, faster, stronger. I also like to think of a time in a previous training session or race where I have pushed further than I though possible and this pushes me on.

Would you recommend joining a tri club?

I love my tri club – organised, structured sessions; great people; misery loves company; and like-minded individuals. Its' a hot pot of ideas and action and advice - so yes! Join a club.

Who are your top tips for the Olympic triathlon?

Helen Jenkins and Nicola Spirig - and then the beauty of the Olympics is that ANYTHING can happen!

Do you have rest days? How important are they to have in your training?

Rest days very important. Physically, to allow training to sink in and your body to adapt to training, and also, mentally, to have a break. Generally I have a down day every week with light training and a full day off every two weeks. 

Do you train to music?  If you do, what sort of music would you recommend listening to whilst running?

I have a pretty crap selection of music! There was a program on the BBC not so long ago that said that 120-140 beats per minute was the way to go. Mine is cheesy chart music (too young, really, for my age) - a good beat that you can loose yourself in! I bought a Glee workout album - very bad but fun to exercise to!

What is your best song to train to? 

Florence and the Machine, Dog Days - I love that.

How do you stop training from becoming boring and monotonous?

Training can sometimes be boring. I try to change my routes as often as possible and I try to train with others so that there is some more motivation and a social interaction - even if it is at the end of the session as you are too busy trying to breathe during! 

I’m doing the ultra distance in London. I am a better runner than biker. Should I give everything on the first run (20k)to get good start on the bike, or save a bit?

Save a bit, as, if you use up too much on the run, your bike will suffer. The bike is the longer proportionally so you need to feel stronger there.

The bike course is 7 laps of 11k approx. Could you treat every second lap as time trial? 

Your body will fare better if you are more even paced - bursts of speed will wear you down more. Even stephens is the best way to go and, if you can, build gradually through the bike section if you feel strong. 

I find pacing myself through the different disciplines hard, too.

Pacing is a matter of practice. You get to know just how hard you can push one discipoine without endangering the other - its a bit of give and take

What surface is it best to run on when training? I'd love to just use parks/tracks but usually end up pounding pavements.

All surfaces are good, as variety will help your proprioception - ability not to fall over! And variety also means strong muscles. However, it is good to find tracks and grass to run on, and try to limit too much pavement-pounding where possible.

Does it excite you how popular triathlons and duathlons are becoming? It really is an addictive sport.

It's great to see people embracing any sport - especially kids. But everyone loves their own sport and I think that it is fab to see tri getting some media coverage and being a really good way to raise awareness of charities.

Do you use protein shakes?

I do use protein shakes but, as a rule, only after long or intense workouts where I may not be able to have a good meal straight afterwards. A post-training snack with carbs and protein are good for energy replacement and recovery. If you can't afford expensive supplements, chocolate milk is a great option.

What about those gel sachets? Would you use them?

Yes gels are good for providing energy in a convenient form during training and racing, but it can be a personal preference. Also, you need to try these things in training before you race with them.

I'm taking part in a team triathlon with Macmillan. Have you got any tips for a speedy handover?

Have a chat to your team mates beforehand - if you can, have a look at the handover area, perhaps pick a spot and have a practice. In the actual race, don't get caught up in the adrenaline - slow things down to 80% and do them right and you will not make time costly mistakes 

I’m also taking part in the team triathlon. With the swim, where would you position yourself when entering the water? 

Position in the swim very much depends on your ability and confidence as a swimmer. If you are happy to be in the mix, in the turbulence, etc then get in the middle - you may get a good group to swim with and a faster time. If you are not so confident, position yourself at the side so that you have clear water.

If you could give one piece of advice to Team Macmillan what would it be? 

Enjoy the moment – there’s nothing quite like crossing the line and having all your hard work come to fruition.

If you’ve been inspired to sign up for a challenge event for Macmillan, find more triathlon and duathlon events on our website.