Gold medallist swimmer Claire Cashmore made her Paralympic debut at the 2004 Athens Paralympics when she was just 16. Born without her left forearm, breaststroke swimmer Claire won gold and silver at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. Looking for a new challenge after Rio, Claire turned to paratriathlon with great success and is the current ITU Paratriathlon World Champion.
Now, with her sights set on Tokyo 2021, Claire, who is an INCUS athlete and uses her INCUS Nova device to track her training, took time out of her preparations to talk about navigating the Covid rollercoaster, switching to multisport from swimming, and the challenges of training in lockdown.
You moved from professional swimming to triathlon after winning a gold medal at the Rio Paralympics in 2016. What prompted the switch?
I had always wanted to give triathlon a go, so I was incredibly excited when it made its Paralympic debut in Rio 2016. After Rio, I had my swim funding cut which was a really tough pill to swallow and hard to comprehend after Rio. I took a few months out to decide what I really wanted to do now, did I want to carry on as a swimmer and support myself, try triathlon or go into the real world and get a real job. I realised I really wanted a new challenge and to step outside my comfort zone so I decided I would love to see how far I could get in triathlon.
As a swimmer, your event was over in 80 seconds. Was there a big learning curve in not only changing to training across three disciplines but going to a more endurance-focused event?
Definitely. I remember my first few races thinking, ‘this is not for me, it’s so blooming long and painful’, and I only do sprint distance (750 swim, 20k bike and 5k run). I couldn’t understand how people do the longer races! Haha. 100 breast (100m breaststroke, Claire’s former event) was still painful but at least the pain was over very quickly. Joking aside, I now love the variety of training for the three sports…
You made your Paralympic debut at 16. Do you still get nervous competing?
One hundred per cent. I get nervous when I have a hard session in training or a test set, so racing is another story, although I definitely think I get slightly less nervous for triathlon than I did for swimming. Because it’s a longer race, it doesn’t feel quite so intense and there’s a little more room for error. I know I am relaxed when I am being genuinely me; chatting, laughing joking, and having fun. As soon as I slip away from that and I try to be someone I am not; overly serious and focused, that’s when I know the nerves have set in.
With three lockdowns in the last 10 months and most of 2020’s events cancelled, how have you found the last year?
It’s been a mixed rollercoaster of emotions. It can be hard in times of uncertainty to keep pushing forward when you don’t have a goal to work towards. I think the thing that I find the hardest is the media always trying to second guess whether Tokyo will go ahead and putting a negative spin on it when they have absolutely zero facts. I find this really frustrating and massively insensitive to all the athletes who are working really hard and hoping that everything will work out ok.
On the flip side, it’s been really great to have an extra year to work on areas I previously didn’t think I would have time to work on. Time in sport is so valuable and therefore I really want to use the extra time wisely to be even better prepared for Tokyo 2021.
What does a typical week of training look like for you at the moment?
It changes depending on which phase I am in, but currently, I’m focusing on higher mileage and slightly less intensity.
Monday – Hot bike (heated environment to prepare for Tokyo humidity) and run off (brick session). 90 minute swim. Drills.
Tuesday – Vo2 Max swim. Gym. Long run.
Wednesday – Long bike. Long swim.
Thursday – Threshold swim repeats. Critical power bike session.
Friday – Long aerobic run. Swim. Gym.
Saturday – Tempo run.
Sunday – Long bike.
Can you share the kind of run sessions you do?
At the moment, as we’re in the midst of a winter block, I’m only doing one run session a week as we’re trying to increase the mileage whilst training my floppy ankles (swimmer feet) and shins to be used to the higher impact of consistent running.
I’m currently combining a few hill reps with tempo running; the hill reps are used to tune in my run form and increase the capacity at high heart rate. Eg. Start with 8 x 30-second uphills with run down as recovery. Then into a 30-minute tempo build: 10 minutes at bottom-end of tempo, maintaining form from the hill reps, 10 minutes at top-end of tempo and 10 minutes above tempo.
How many of your rides are indoors vs. outdoors?
Currently, all my riding is indoors as the weather has been pretty rubbish and icy. We would normally escape the British winter but unfortunately, that’s not possible this year. In the summer months, you would rarely find me training indoors.
What does a typical bike session look like?
A typical 2-hour bike session looks like this: 20-minute warm-up, then 20 minutes of ‘20-seconds max effort, 40-seconds easy’ into a 20-minute recovery ride. Then repeat! It’s definitely a lactate burner.
How different is your swim training now compared to your pro swimmer days?
As a breaststroke sprinter, my training was a lot more focussed around intense efforts, speed and strength. We used to regularly do potentiation sessions, so heavy weights or med balls slams straight into swim efforts. I also did a lot of kick [work] as my legs were my driving force in breaststroke. I remember I used to moan when we did anything over 400m, how times have changed! I also really didn’t like to use a pullbuoy, whereas it’s now my go-to for recovery swims. I’m not sure how I used to do 20 hours in the pool a week, although I did spend all my time walking around like a zombie.
Looking to the Paralympics in Japan later this year, how are you feeling about it?
Really excited, although I still will need to be selected. I think it will be an incredibly special Paralympics in a completely different way and hopefully a big celebration after a really tough few years for many athletes.
What are your favourite items of kit for training?
I have really enjoyed using the INCUS Nova to gain more knowledge around my swimming and running technique.
Are you sponsored by anyone right now?
Yes I am really lucky to have some really great sponsors supporting me on my journey to Tokyo:
- Specialized is my bike sponsor. I love my new Shiv and I can’t wait to ride it in Tokyo
- INCUS Performance keep my training on track and make sure that my technique is perfect for the hard training hours
- Precision Hydration keep me well hydrated which is pretty important for the crazy Tokyo heat
- Watson and Batty
- TRR nutrition – collagen
You can follow Claire’s training and Olympic qualification via her social media: www.instagram.com/clairecashmore1 and www.twitter.com/clairecashmore. You can also visit Claire’s website at www.clairecashmore.com.