Scotland’s Catriona Morrison, a 4-time ITU duathlon world champion, 8-time Ironman 70.3 winner and two-time Ironman winner, announced her retirement as a professional triathlete today in a surprising decision made after a brief period of reflection.
“In 2015, I will be retiring from professional triathlon,” Morrison wrote in her blog today, two days after her 38th birthday. “It’s a decision that I made very quickly, so much so that it has even taken me by surprise. However, it is not a decision made in haste of taken lightly. I know that I can still improve as an athlete. I know that I can still be competitive. I know that it is a lifestyle that I love and I know and appreciate that triathlon and the triathlon world has given me more than I can articulate.”
In fact, the 2006 and 2010 ITU Duathlon World Champion and 2007 and 2008 ITU Long Course Duathlon World Champion, and 4-time Ironman 70.3 St. Croix winner had recovered well from a year and a half hiatus following an October 2012 Achilles surgery and broken clavicle suffered during her rehab. In 2013 she had three Ironman 70.3 podiums and a 4th place at Ironman 70.3 Worlds plus a 3rd at Abu Dhabi International and a 3rd at Ironman Lake Tahoe. Last year, in a briefer than usual schedule, she won Ironman 70.3 Auckland and was 2nd at Ironman 70.3 Panama before ending her season with a disappointing 14th at Ironman 70.3 Worlds and a DNF at the Ironman World Championship.
Morrison had ambitious plans for an improved 2015 season before changing her mind this past week. The decision came after arriving at a realization that comes to many top level athletes with high standards who find they have lost the drive needed to commit to ultimate efforts. “When I failed to finish at the World Championships in Kona, I was hugely disappointed, but I wasn't as heart and gut-wrenchingly disappointed as I had been in previous years when things did not go according to plan,” she wrote. “It’s only now I can acknowledge that I did the ‘ostrich.’ I stuck my head in the sand and refused to acknowledge my thoughts, feelings and emotions… As an achiever I got busy being busy. I lost connection with, and I was dishonest to myself. I convinced myself that training and racing were my reason d’etre. When it came time to walk the walk, I couldn’t follow through.”
Morrison wrote that she initially thought new and exciting races would “override the feelings of disengagement that I was experiencing. The reality is it would have been a temporary fix. In some ways it would have been the easy option – a step into the known: consistent training equals strong racing.”
After soul searching, Morrison rejected that option. “The harder decision is to retire from being a professional athlete,” she wrote. “I’m no longer driven ‘to get what I’ve always got’ through triathlon. I know that it is the correct decision because I’ve taken my head out of the sand and I’ve had a few harsh but honest conversations with myself. It's time to change and to develop new opportunities to challenge myself.”
The swiftness of the decision was backed up by 2-time XTERRA World Champion and fellow Scotswoman Lesley Paterson. “I had a swim workout with Catriona a week ago back in Scotland and she talked about being discouraged about Kona – but she made no mention of retiring,” said Paterson.
Throughout her decade-long professional career, Morrison was a dogged competitor who overcame a 1-hour swim with a duathlon champion’s strong bike and brilliant run.
In addition to her 4 wins at St. Croix, her long distance triathlon highlights include her Ironman-distance debut at Challenge Roth in 2009 and a remarkable come-from-behind win at Ironman Lanzarote in 2010.
At Roth, Morrison overcame a period of gastric distress that included vomiting three times and four toilet stops which provoked a remark that drew big laughs at the post-race press conference: “I fertilized a lot of Roth!” With all that, she ran a third-best 3:03:57 marathon and finished 3rd behind Chrissie Wellington and Rebekah Keat in a fastest-to-that-time Ironman-distance debut of 8:48:11. On that day, it was the 6th fastest women's time ever for the distance, and today it remains the 21st fastest.
But perhaps the best example of her grace under pressure was Morrison’s 2010 performance at Ironman Lanzarote where she lost an estimated 35 minutes with a broken chain on the bike and started the run with a 27 minutes deficit. Morrison’s 3:04:36 run rocketed her from 9th place to 1st with 3 kilometers left of the marathon and gave her a 1:28 margin of victory over runner-up Louise Collins.