We had a chat with Callum Millward, Kiwi pro triathlete and founder of the Cupcake Cartel.
He tells us about how he got started in the sport, including training in Europe and for the London Olympics and about his relaxed attitude to the sport.
Tell me about your background – how did you get here?
In NZ, when I was a kid, I did a local Weeatabix triathlon. I did the run leg. We swam around the pool, biked around the carpark, and ran around the park. So they plant the seed quite young but not all of the kids follow through. I did that when I was maybe 10 but didn’t start committing until I was 17 or 18.
But didn’t go anywhere. But then when I was 21 I joined Col Stewart’s squad on the Gold Coast and trained for the Sydney Olympics. But the pathway to being a pro is not that defined. I was young and malleable and I just did what he said. In a year and a half he got me from being a regular age grouper to a pro.
I was running a 31 min 10k and got into the ITU. Once I was in the ITU that got me a massive team around me to guide me. Then you get into a system (the NZ Academy of Sport) where you get funded for things like strength training, diet, massage, transport and more.
It was still demanding in terms of finances, but the academy helped. I trained with the group that went to the London 2012 Olympics but only 3 from New Zealand went.
Once in the ITU I got to go to France and Germany and it showed me the world – NZ is so small. We got fostered, had access to a pool, and had a lot of support, but we still had to figure out how to get to races on our own.
Those were great stepping stones to world class racing – you had to get your foot in the door in those leagues in Germany and France and earn some money across 7-8 races in a season.
All the Europeans racing now came from there – guys like Gomez and the Brownlees. But my coach didn’t have me take that route. I only went to Europe for two summers.
When you join a club you have to commit to racing the whole time and I had already chosen 3-4 ITU races here in New Zealand and it’s so far it didn’t work out.
Talk to me a bit about the Cupcake Cartel. How did you start it and how did it grow?
Years ago I started making tongue-in-cheek videos kind of making fun of the uptight attitude so many of us have. I put these on YouTube and called them Cupcakes with Cal.
So eventually that grew into my team, the Cupcake Cartel. Now we’ve got hundreds of athletes from around the world.
You seem to be a lot more relaxed and approachable than most pros. Do you agree?
I noticed even age groupers are uptight. I was high strung when I was younger but I found it’s more sustainable being more relaxed. I can afford to make a mistake and then race again and fix it. In Canada once I flatted on the bike.
And then I wasn’t feeling good anyway and the wheel change just took way too long. I lost maybe 10 minutes. But it was no big deal for me to pull out of the race. Anyway, I had Boulder as a back-up. And as a pro, we don’t pay entry fees so we can race a bit more strategically.
Right, unlike me who has put everything into a race over a year. All my training, my travel plans, my family’s time and we make it a big deal.
Then we travel at best overseas, at worst to another continent, and if anything goes wrong it’s catastrophic.
Yes, exactly. A good example is pros who go to Kona and who don’t have a great race. Then right after that they’ll do Arizona. Luke McKenzie had a terrible Kona then did a 7:50 or something at Busselton. But as soon as you have kids or a family it’s different.
But now you and Alise have a son?
Yes and hopefully Taj has Alise’s swim genes.
Do you guys have any specific rivalry or area you are always trying to outdo each other in? You say she comes from a competitive swim background and you don’t.
We train differently and she comes from AG racing, and training, where she has to fit training around a job. But with me, since 2004, I’ve had my own mentality. Like I can sleep after a morning swim squad. I used to have no other commitments.
How has COVID changed things for you?
Everyone’s different. Triathletes are motivated. COVID is an example and when training is taken away and you have no events to train for, you’re asking yourself, “Why am I getting out of bed?”
I am retiring from racing as a pro and will go back to age group racing next year. I will not be hanging on for one last race to qualify for Kona. Where as Alise wants to do a sub 9:30 so she has been taking it harder than I have and others. There are lots of pros that don’t have an exit strategy.
I train with others who have a paying job and they can buy whatever bike they want and there’s a lot of freedom with that – it’s a lifestyle that keeps you fit and healthy and you can travel but it’s not the real world.
It can be liberating when you can choose to buy whatever bike, shoes, or other equipment you want, with no sponsors, and you don’t have to post certain things on social media. For example, a friend of mine saw how fast Cam Wurf’s Pinarello was and wanted it so he went right out and bought it.
But we wouldn’t have an industry without sponsors.
Looking at your times – they’re pretty amazing. Which race are you most proud of?
Boulder 2018, or Boise 2012. I had a sprint finish with Matt Reed in Boise.
The bike was shortened like 30km because it was freezing cold. It was so cold that a lot of guys even rode in their wetsuits!
This was memorable to be because of the finish. Matt and I tied. At first, they said I won, but then they looked at the finish and they said it was a tie. And officially, we both got first place. And Ironman paid us both first place prizes gave us both the points.
That weekend there were a million other races in the us so it got lots of publicity and it was really dramatic.
I’m from a place about 2-3 hours from Boise.
Jocelyn McCauley is from over there, too, but she only races on Saturdays.
Yes, I met her in Langkawi last year and I think she was favored to win that race but then for some reason I don’t think she finished.
What’s a bucket list race for you?
Challenge Roth. Super cool friendly atmosphere, obviously it’s the main challenger to the Ironman brand. I like the European way of life.
Who coaches you?
My whole career I’ve bounced between coaches and coaching myself. Right now, I don’t have a coach. My last coach was Bevan McKinnon in 2018. He coaches Jocelyn McCauley now.
Bevan is really good but I was getting too busy with team stuff. He was really cool to work with – super relaxed, but calculated. I won Boulder then qualified for Kona and I was unmotivated. But he had a good way of getting me back into it without it feeling like a hassle. It was fun.
A lot of pros know what they need to do but need a mentor or someone to bounce ideas off.
Do you coach too?
It just hasn’t appealed to me. Alise has about 8 athletes though. I’m happy to talk to people but the day in day out isn’t not really my style. I wouldn’t do it unless I knew I was doing it properly.
Which other pros do you look up to the most or follow?
Cameron Brown and Craig Alexander. I do know them both but admire them regardless because I find them down to Earth and relatable.
For example, Cameron will eat anything like donuts or other foods that many of us would avoid. They are not taking things too seriously or making life not fun.
Cameron Brown is 50 this year and he’s still racing, so he’s doing something right. Craig is relatable and is hard working and is a nice person.
In my opinion, other guys like Jan are is not as approachable or as friendly.
What do you thin about Super League Triathlon?
I think it’s awesome. I thin it’s reminiscent of the F1 tri series in Australia, a packaged made-for-TV concept. But is it sustainable?
I’m sure it costs a fortune to put on. I think it’s cool though. It would be great if Ironman had something like that. I’ll sit down and watch 3 and a half hours of the Tour de France so this would work in triathlon, too.
Are there any training or racing products you swear by and just can’t live without?
Not especially. There’s a variety of things that work – shoes, bikes wheels, and the thing that differentiates them is usually just marketing.
What are your hacks or tips for racing?
For me, race day is always a celebration of the training and hard work you’ve put it. You get to see everybody else and their bikes, eat all the food, and have fun.
Bring two pairs of googles to the race start. Once I snapped a pair before a race.
Bring two race suits in case the zipper of one breaks.
It’s happened to so many people. Daniela Ryf, Cam Brown, they’ve both had it happen. Basically, bring backups for when things go wrong.
When I started to use Infinit nutrition I would still have a backup bag in special needs like a Coke or a Mars bar.
My biggest tip would be eat, sleep, recover, and be consistent. If you just keep showing up, and keep doing the same things over and over again, you will improve.
Also, to avoid punctures use tubular and only use them 5-6 times. And deflate them the night before, and make sure there’s no glass in transition.
Finally, don’t leave a Pit Stop (anti-puncture foam can) in the box of the bike or it might explode. One of the Quintana Roo guys at Kona told me he saw one explode in the bike box and it blew up the box!