RDRC Interview with Callum Eade: Oceans 7 Challenge
As a long distance swimmer, once you’ve swum the English Channel, what else is there? Well, Singapore-based software executive Callum Eade has figured out the answer to that question, and is working his way through the Ocean’s 7 Challenge, comprising seven open water channel swims: the English Channel, Molokai Channel, Catalina Channel, North Channel, Tsugaru Strait, Strait of Gibraltar and Cook Strait. And when he’s done with the Ocean’s 7, he’s going back to Dover in an attempt to become the oldest person to swim the English Channel three times in a row! We met Callum when he approached us to discuss ultra-endurance nutrition and we suggested he give Tailwind a try, but because most of us in the Red Dot Running Company community are dry-land endurance athletes, we wanted to learn more, and once we did, we wanted to share his story.
RDRC: I want to start by asking about your sporting background. Were you a swimmer from school days?
CALLUM: I was never really a sporting guy. I actually hated sport until I was about 15. A funny story – I was standing outside a milk bar in New Zealand, and this guy comes up beside me and says, “I’m here for the bike ride! Are you doing the bike ride?” I ended up joining him. No one else showed up, and he and I did this bike ride. I’d been eating an ice cream, and I remember I got to the top of this hill, vomited the ice cream back up, went home and told my dad I wanted to buy a race bike. My father said, “Not a chance. It’ll be another five-minute wonder.” I now have been racing bikes – that’s where I began – since I was 15. When I got to about 25, I met a guy who was into triathlon, he said, “I’m gonna do this thing called an Ironman.” And I was a naïve young man, he was 15 years my senior, but I said, “I don’t know what to do, but I’ll follow you.” So every step that he trained, I trained. And I never stopped. From that day I did 16 triathlons in 10 years, one of which was Hawaii Ironman. It was amazing – it was when Ironman was Ironman. And I loved it. I’ve been to a couple of Ironman World Champs, I’ve ticked all the boxes. Then I got a bit older, and my body wasn’t responding as well to things, I wanted to spend time with the kids, and you’ve just got to be smarter … then I met a woman named Chloë McCardel. Chloë McCardel has done the English Channel 30 times. And I wanted to swim the English Channel. Never done marathon swimming. I’m not a great swimmer, but I do like swimming. After 10 years, my wife Sarah said, “Okay, do the damn thing. Get it off the list. But that’s it.” And so I did it. And the amazing thing about it was, I’m not a team sport guy, but there is not one sport more team-orientated than marathon swimming. All I do is swim. You’ve counting on the skipper. You’re counting on the observer – you don’t even know the guy. You’re counting on the feedback you’re getting from your team. It’s such a team sport.
RDRC: When did you swim the English Channel last year, and is there a window for English Channel attempts?
CALLUM: I swam it on August 23rd, and yes, there’s two things to consider: the weather, and the temperature. The French hate you starting on their side. The English love it. The boat that I did it with is a converted fishing boat. Reg and his son Ray decided they were going to convert their fishing boat into a Channel boat. So they work for four months of the year, in the summer window when the tides are right. You want to swim the Channel on a neap tide, it’s the highest tide and there’s the most water in the Channel. The water was 15C when I left the UK. I had to get used to the cold. But the real problem is finding a slot. It’s full for three years, this thing. There’s an association in charge of certifying Channel crossings; you need an official observer. They’ve got 12 boats. You need to be working with them because they officiate the swim. And they know that water, and the currents. They help calculate your route, and where you’ll be likely to land. And if you’re too fast or too slow, you’ll probably fail, because you’ll miss the tide and either you’ll have to swim hours extra, or they’ll pull you out because you’re being swept into the path of the cross-Channel ferries.
RDRC: So, you’ve swum the English Channel. You finished, you had a couple of beers, and then you decided to do the next six?
CALLUM: No. I went into a really, really dark hole. I came home. I had nothing to do. And you know this. You’ve heard about it before. I’d been building up to this journey, and hundreds of people around the world were involved – we’d done a big fundraiser here in Singapore – and then it just stopped. I didn’t know what to do. So I started seeing a sports psychologist here in Singapore, an amazing woman who has since become part of the team.
I had lost my focus, didn’t have a goal. I had found something I love; I just needed to figure out how to manage the peaks and troughs. I have never had any problem finding the motivation to train. And I have never had any problem bringing people on board. So I came home one day and told Sarah about Ocean’s 7, and I had this hare-brained idea that I would take a year off, and do it all at once. Well, I thought about that, but it ended up not making sense from a financial point of view, and doing it over three years was much more realistic. Around that time I switched jobs, and the company I am with now really embraced the idea. They support the idea completely, we agreed on a few ground rules that would allow me to do my job properly, and we’re working together on this in part to demonstrate the value of work-life balance. They’ve loved it.
On top of that, my wife Sarah and I have undertaken to raise $250,000 for cancer research. At that level of funding we are host our very own research program in conjunction with Tour de Cure, and we have chosen the very challenging and important field of children’s cancer. We want to help find a cure for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), which is a tumour located in the pons (middle) of the brain stem. A child diagnosed with DIPG today faces the same prognosis as a child diagnosed 40 years ago. There is still no effective treatment and no chance of survival. Only 10% of children with DIPG survive for 2 years following their diagnosis, and less than 1% survive for 5 years. So every penny we raise will go toward researching a cure for this cancer, and that’s how we came up with the name Channeling a Cause. Children’s cancer is our cause.
RDRC: That’s awesome. What’s the schedule for swimming the rest of the Ocean’s 7?
CALLUM: I was 10 days away from going to Hawaii to swim the Molokai Channel when we went into lockdown. So, sitting in lockdown one night, dealing with everything, I said to my wife, “Let’s just go all the way.” So we rang a guy named Charlie Evans, he’s a big part of the team, very connected in the sport, and I explain my idea, and a week later he rings back with a boat confirmed. On October 12, 2021 I’ll swim the English Channel three times. There are only five people ever who have done a triple crossing. I would be the sixth, and I would be the oldest. A world record.
The rest of the schedule depends on COVID-19. Molokai I can do pretty much anytime, because it’s the tropics. I’m scheduled to be there for work in November, so it might happen then, but we’ll see. The North Channel, which is Ireland to Scotland, is booked for August. Again, probably highly unlikely, but we’ll see how things unfold. Now, June 2021, I have Catalina booked. So Catalina and the English Channel I have boats booked. And the Cook Strait I have booked for 2022. That’s the one I’d like to finish up with, if I can.
RDRC: I guess the rules of long distance swimming are pretty informal, but I guess none of it is wetsuit?
CALLUM: No. If you’re a real swimmer, it’s right back to raw. And to be honest, in the world that I live in, that’s something I find pretty appealing. You are in a pair of Speedos. You’ve got one swim cap. And you’ve got a pair of goggles. I was taking Nurofen/Panadol in the Channel, proactively. You can eat what you want. One of my sponsors is a guy who makes Ocean Grease, a combination of mint, goose fat, sheep fat … and it’s amazing. It’s more for lubrication than it is for insulation. And you can’t touch the boat. You can’t touch another swimmer. It’s very mechanical. And those are the rules.
RDRC: What’s your nutrition strategy, then?
CALLUM: I actually came across you guys because I’d been using Tailwind. Both the regular Tailwind and the Rebuild. That stuff is incredible. They really are, honestly, streets ahead of everything else. And I’ve tried loads of products. In the Channel I was drinking soup, and I found a flavourless gel. Soup in itself is not nutritious; it’s just flavour and hot water. But pumpkin soup, going down, is the best thing ever. It even tastes good when you belch it back up! In the middle of the ocean my wife was cooking soup in the galley, and I had two or three containers coming at me all the time. There was soup, and a Tailwind mix, and I was having gels also. Even though my team were putting gels into the soup, I felt like I needed the feeling of consuming the gel. We made up an Excel spreadsheet, feeding every 30 minutes. And I wanted to be very quick with my feeds, because if you’re not swimming forward, you’re floating backward. So my target was to be done with my feeds within 30 seconds, and that created a problem, because I was so focused on the time, I wasn’t consuming all of the calories.
RDRC: Okay, last question. Do you ever think … about sharks?
CALLUM: Yeah. The English Channel is fished to death. There’s nothing in there. But, yeah, a lot. For Molokai we’ve arranged shark repellent, which is electronic, and well-tested. I met a guy in Sydney who had done Molokai the year before. As the sun came up, he noticed a shadow under the water. It was a 14-foot shark, and that shark followed him for five hours, then it swam away. So you have to be prepared to be at peace with that.
These swims, though, the biggest concern is the jellyfish. And there’s a scale. There’s a jellyfish that will tickle you. there’s a jellyfish that will hurt you. There’s a jellyfish that will burn you. And there’s a jellyfish that will kill you.
But basically, it’s the ocean! And to be honest, that’s the appeal!