We talk to INCUS ambassador Claire Cashmore about the highs and lows of 2021 and her successful switch from Paralympic swimmer to World Triathlon Para Champion.
The life of a professional athlete is always full of challenges but 2020/2021 has added extra uncertainty with event date changes, cancellations and incomplete race calendars. With Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games being delayed a year and the World Championships following just two months after Tokyo it has been a long season for para-triathlete Claire Cashmore.
Starting out in triathlon
Loughborough based Cashmore has been an INCUS user from the very start of our development, Cashmore was already a well-established swimmer, we joined her journey near to the start of her switch to triathlon from swimming. Cashmore took part in four Paralympic Games as a swimmer, her first at the age of 16 in Athens in 2004, and then Beijing, London and Rio, “ after 2016 I wasn’t progressing in the way I wanted to, my times weren’t coming down and even though I was training as hard as I could I wasn’t improving. I had gotten a bit stale. Triathlon has always been something I wanted to do so it was a perfect time to change.”
Cashmore had the opportunity to transfer from the Paralympic swim programme to Paratriathlon, “it was the best decision I made and I did it at the right time. It allowed me to rekindle my love for sport, get my passion back.”
We didn’t know Claire as a swimmer and INCUS was not available, but just hypothetically and with the benefit of hindsight we wondered if a tool like the NOVA could have made a difference at that point in her career, “ there wasn’t anything like INCUS around when I was swimming, it lacked data. We had video but nothing to track what was happening underwater. I don’t think I had reached my full potential in swimming, I just didn’t know what it would have needed to get there. Who knows, maybe data from INCUS could have made the difference.”
Triathlon swimming technique
Switching to triathlon meant switching stroke from breast-stroke to free-style, though obviously Claire had a huge head-start with the many hours already done in the pool, “ in swimming you do so much swimming!” Cashmore explains with a laugh, “I did a hell of a lot of freestyle before, just not the same distances or as much as I’m doing now. It’s very different now to the type of swimming I did before. I don’t really don’t need to tumble turn anymore in open water!”
Cashmore was born without a left forearm and competes in the PTS5 racing classification, using INCUS has helped to show more clearly how this affects her movement in the water.
“The difference in rotation is something I have struggled with. INCUS has been helping me to understand what is going on.”
One of the big questions that INCUS helps to answer is ‘what does best performance look like for you and how can you replicate it’ – for an athlete such as Claire chasing after perfect symmetry might not be the way to achieve her fastest times, “people try to strive for perfection, for me that is not the case at all, it is interesting using it compared with an able-bodied athlete. I still don’t have the picture of a perfect session but it’s something I’m working on. I mainly look at the data from my rotation, it’s helping me to answer if it is really needed for me to be equal on both sides. I try not to focus on too many different things. You can end up chasing your tail if you try to change too many things at once as you can’t identify the components of your technique that are making a positive difference.”
The advantage that INCUS has is that every session can be monitored and the data used to help you progress, “When I was swimming on its own we used video a lot, but it takes a lot of time, energy and people you need to rely on for video equipment so it is not available to everyone and certainly not every session, even for professionals. INCUS provides feedback without needing anyone else. You can look at the results and analysis yourself , it makes technique training much more accessible.”
How to get better at triathlon
Already a World Class athlete when she started triathlon didn’t mean that Cashmore had it easy, “You need patience in a new sport. You can’t expect to be amazing straight away, it takes time. Build your training sensibly. I was incredibly physically fit; my heart and lungs were in great condition but my joints weren’t ready for the different loads. I had to do the correct things in the gym to condition my body for the new demands.”
Along with physical preparation is technique, “I felt like I had gotten a little bit stale with my swimming and triathlon gave me something new, but the data from INCUS helped me know I was making progress. In swimming I had just relied on my instinct and feeling to see if I was progressing. If you keep training you will reach a stage in your development where you need more information, more data to keep improving.”
Cashmore’s most important piece of advice is “Just enjoy it! Try not to focus too much on the outcome, enjoy the journey and soak up those little wins, with three sports you have more of them to look forward to.”
Tokyo – a big what if.
Goal setting is an integral part of your training, and as every good coach will tell you results are not goals, they are the product of you hitting each small milestone and progress goal along the way, “ Two years ago, in my athlete development meeting, I had the longest list you can imagine of what I needed to do to improve, who I needed to get help from. By Tokyo I felt that I had ticked it off,” explains Cashmore.
But even when every part of your preparation is perfect it doesn’t always mean outcomes will follow, “Tokyo was a bitter sweet competition, I stood on the start line in the best shape I felt I had ever been in. I had left no stone unturned.” Cashmore finished in Bronze medal position having had to serve a time penalty during the bike leg, “ When I got the penalty and then I was told I hadn’t served enough time and needed to do it again, it was very hard. It’s not often you feel absolutely incredible on the start line – it’s a big what if – if I hadn’t got those penalties. It made me hungry and it made me learn a lot about myself. I didn’t throw my toys out the pram! In that moment when emotion was high I was controlled and I handled it well. I feel proud of that.”
Anyone who has trained and focused for an event will be familiar with the unexpected feelings of hollowness or disappointment that arrive after you have finished, however successful the outcome was. With this year’s Paralympics being the end of 5 instead of 4 years of training must have made that even harder, “ I had aimed at a goal for 5 years and when it’s done it's really anti-climactic. There was no real celebration because we were flying home 48 hours after, it was like nothing ever happened. No closing ceremony, no time to soak it up, but I do still have amazing memories – it was an incredible few weeks.”
With the World's only a few weeks after Tokyo, Cashmore says she struggled to keep her focus “ I found those first few weeks really tough, I had the post Paralympic blues, I was pushing myself out the door, it was hard to keep going. Friends were already in the off-season and I was trying to get through to the Euros and the Worlds. Once I got to Abu Dhabi my racing enthusiasm revived and everything clicked into place for race day.”
The effort was worth it as she held on to her title as ITU World Champion from 2019 and goes into 2022 in her third successive year as World Champion as the race was cancelled in 2020.
Triathlon – rest and recovery
We caught up with Claire on her return from her end-of-season holiday, “I haven’t thought too much about the future! I’m still running off the back of the World’s, figuring out what is next, thinking about what I need to work on and where I can make the biggest gains.” Having time to relax and plan is precious but not always easy to achieve, “as athletes we’re always goal driven and competitive people. We’re always looking for the next thing.”
Although Tokyo was a long 5-year cycle, the knock-on effect is that the next Paralympics is not that far away, “ Paralympics is so overwhelming and such a long time to focus. I like the four-year cycle, it gives you real time to switch off and digest but still have time to prepare and make changes, but this time I’ve only had 3 weeks off and I’m already feeling pressure to rush back into it. We’re already halfway through the next Paralympic cycle – its only 2.5 years to the next one”
We’re looking forward to seeing what Claire Cashmore will achieve in the next few years, and we are proud to be helping her on that journey.
Follow Claire Cashmore on social media and look out for an INCUS special Q+A session in the New Year