Multiple long-distance triathlon and duathlon champion Catriona Morrison explains how off-road riding can help you step up your autumn training

For someone who has a Masters degree in earth and atmospheric sciences, it comes as no surprise that Catriona Morrison loves to embrace the great outdoors. Based in Broxburn, near Edinburgh, she is blessed with some great places to train.Catriona Morrison mountain biking

Most pro triathletes spend the colder months chasing the sun, jetting off to warmer climes where they can train with ease and not worry about wind and rain. Catriona, on the other hand, is not afraid of the cold. Of course she trains abroad at times, but for her, there is no place like home. She accepts that in the absence of sunshine sometimes she needs to approach things differently and in this case, get out on the mountain bike and have some fun.

It’s a training regime that has resulted in her becoming one f the world’s top duathlon and Ironman 70.3 athletes, with a string of big wins and podium finishes. In 2009 she notched up the fastest-ever female long-distance debut, finishing third at Challenge Roth in 8:48, and this year she showed that cold-weather training could equate to warm-weather success when she took an impressive win at Ironman Lanzarote. Clearly, off-road training has its benefits, as she explains.

“Training outdoors in the winter can be a really great experience, and often some of the most beautiful views are on those clear frosty days.

“The more variety you have in your plans, the more you’ll enjoy it. That’s why I try to get out on my mountain bike regularly. Braving the elements is often unavoidable, and as Billy Connelly once said, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing!’ When you’ve been out in the cold and wet in the middle of January, a spring triathlon or duathlon will seem positively tropical!

“I ride my mountain bike when conditions aren’t conducive to getting out on the road. Rain, snow and ice are no problem on a mountain bike. If I’m doing a long training ride I choose routes from my house that include pathways or farm tracks. Otherwise I take the bike to some of the nearby purpose-built mountain biking areas.

“Off-road riding is a great social event – I tend to be fitter than many of my friends so I can’t often train with them, but due to my lack of technical ability on a mountain bike, we can all ride in a group quite happily.

Early starter

“I owned a mountain bike before I ever got hold of a road bike, so I’ve always been out and about on the trails. I mostly train on the Pentland Hills, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. I can ride from my house, do a loop and head home again. I also visit a variety of the Seven Stanes mountain biking parks in central and southern Scotland. I’m a particular fan of Drumlanrig Castle mountain bike trails in Dumfrieshire. My husband and I did the Transrockies seven-day stage race across the Canadian Rockies for our honeymoon. It really was an amazing event – one that I’ll never forget. We are still together and we have scars instead of photos to show for the experience.

Learning curve

“I really don’t class myself as a skilful mountain biker, although I do get better as I do more biking. For me the mountain bike gives me a chance to get off-road, into the country and to enjoy something a little different. For once it’s not about being the best in the world – it’s about enjoying myself and getting fit at the same time. I’ll never be a Danny MacCaskill! I’ve had a couple o lessons and I’m always watching and asking for guidance when I can’t master something. I have a habit of going back and back and back until I can clear a section! Having a lesson from a trained instructor is a great investment. After all, you wouldn’t go skiing for the first time without seeking guidance would you?

“Off-road riding teaches you skills that you can transfer to your road bike. It increases your confidence and improves your bike-handling prowess.

“The mountain bike can give me a really challenging aerobic and often anaerobic workout. It can be a bit like fartlek (unplanned speedwork sessions, using the terrain to stop and start hard intervals) and it’s never the same pace twice.”

How to blaze the trails – safely

1.  Know your trail

Never push the limits on a trail you are not familiar with. There is no shame in walking sections you are not confident enough to ride.

2.  Use your head

If you think you’re doing something stupid, you probably are. Think about what you’re doing and trust your instincts.

3.  Start small, go big

Work your way up to tricky obstacles or stunts. Find ways to practise at lower speeds before doing something more dangerous.

4.  Think bike

Some bikes are better for certain trails. Just before you can see someone else’s tyre tracks, doesn’t mean your bike will make it.

5.  Don’t avoid puddles

Go straight through them! Going round the outskirts damages the trails and widens the puddles.

Keep racing all winter with the Asics Winter Off-Road Series in association with triradar.com and Triathlon Plus