Champion runner Catriona Bisset: ‘Mental health is not a weakness’

Champion Aussie runner Catriona Bisset reveals the practices and people support that keep her mind and body on track.

Tokyo Olympian Catriona Bisset is the elite athlete and person she is today because of the experiences she has been through.

The 28-year-old middle-distance runner, and current Australian record-holder over 800m, has openly discussed her ongoing mental health journey, including how she overcame an eating disorder as a teen.

“It’s all changed me and made me really good at talking about my feelings and communicating with people,” Catriona says.

“I think I’m a really good friend and confidant now to a lot of people in my life.

“I’m not afraid or ashamed to have really hard conversations because I feel it’s my mission to de-stigmatise and normalise talking about mental health.

“I recently sat down with my new coach and psychologist … I needed to step through what I’ve been through, to have someone on my side and on my page and not be surprised, shocked or afraid when I say ‘hey, I’m not having a good time today’ or ‘I’m having a panic attack’ and for them to say ‘that’s OK’ and not be interrogated about it.”

Why mental health not a weakness

The three-time national champion is passionate about normalising mental health — her own and others.

“Normalising it is important and so is removing fear and shame,” Catriona says.

“The most powerful part is removing the personal judgment and the fear that you’re alone, the fear that you’re going to be judged, the fear that you’re the only one who is experiencing this and it somehow makes you defective.

“We need to see it like any physical ailment, if you fall over and hurt yourself or if you inherit a genetic condition.

“It’s just something you have to manage; it’s not a weakness or something to be ashamed of.

“It’s just so hard because mental health is invisible in so many ways.”

Finding friends who really count

Catriona prioritises surrounding herself with people who make her feel safe and care about her happiness, not her race results.

“In the past when I’ve had my worst periods of mental distress, I felt I was in unsafe environments.

“Today, I have the right people around me, an incredibly supportive partner in Nathan, my running environment is really strong and I’ve got great relationships with my coaching and medical teams.

“I’m good now at getting a feel quite quickly if a relationship doesn’t make me feel safe anymore.

“In terms of practical day-to-day stuff, it’s talking to people who really love me for me and don’t care if I win or lose, spending quality time with them and my beautiful rescue greyhound, Plum.”

Mental and physical strength go hand-in-hand

Catriona believes solid foundations create a strong base.

“I always talk about it as a feedback cycle.

“If you’re feeling really good physically that will make you feel really good mentally, and if you’re having problems mentally it can really affect your physical performance,” she explains.

“Getting those fundamentals right makes the biggest difference — having a great support network, getting the right amount of sleep and recovery, the right food.

“Then things like meditation and supplements are extras.”

How Catriona manages her mental health

Last year’s Tokyo Games was a career and personal high for Catriona but anxiety followed in the months after.

“Sometimes I get so agitated and anxious I can’t sit still, relax or sleep properly after a race,” she says.

“After the Olympics I started a mindfulness practice and it’s been really good.

“I use the Headspace app and I’ve actually incorporated a three to four-minute mindfulness practice about 20 minutes before my race.

“I have my warm-up routine, all the physical elements, and when I’m agitated, excited and the adrenalin is going I’ll do a really short mindfulness (session) by myself.

“I do a reset and just really get in touch with my body and stop my mind from continuously churning through the race plan, doubts and worries.

“I started incorporating that into my pre-race routine and main training session and feel very physically present.

“The more you do it the better you get at it, so I think it will be effective.”

Back on the track

At Easter, Catriona competed at the Stawell Gift for the first time and is now preparing for the July 15 world titles in Oregon, US, and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham from July 28.

Chemist Warehouse has teamed up with Athletics Australia to support athletes from amateur level to elite competitors.

“This year I’m really excited about travelling to compete again, especially without the Covid restrictions we had in Tokyo where your support group couldn’t be there,” she says.

“I really just want to make an impact on the global scene.

“Over the last few years, I’ve perhaps underperformed or just not got the best out of myself on the day, so my goal for this year is to run to my potential.

“I think if I can do that, the times, the medals and the results will come.”

Written by Megan Hustwaite.