Larry Cain: Midlife in the Fast Lane

Larry Cain
DOB: January 9, 1963
Olympic Gold and Silver Medalist
75 Canadian Championship Gold Medals
4 times Canadian Athlete of the Month
Member of Order of Canada
Member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Larry Cain is 54 years old. His enthusiasm, physical fitness and results on the water rival competitors half his age.

One look at him and you know right away Larry stays in shape. What’s really remarkable, however, is that he has been able to maintain elite level fitness, consistently, since he was a teenager. Larry hasn’t just continued to paddle since his youth; he’s paddling at the highest levels of SUP racing, with all the passion, discipline and focus of his Olympic canoe days.

One of the many great things about paddlesports is that it rewards consistency and longevity. Fitness is only one component of the equation; technique and knowledge are equally vital, and they don’t come easy. In fact, they often make fitness seem the most attainable.

Honing technique and acquiring training/race knowledge comes with time, repetition and patience. A paddling career spanning four decades has given Larry a level of precision with his technique that is simply envious, backed up by equal devotion to strength and endurance. He is inspiring, to paddlers of all ages (maybe a little extra for those of us north of 40.)

For a former Olympic canoeist whose passion for paddling and thirst for competition had not waned, SUP racing came along at the perfect time. Not only did SUP give Cain an exciting new paddling discipline to channel his passion for the sport, it opened up opportunities for him in another equally important aspect of his evolving career: coaching.

SUP has created a whole new rank of paddlers, many of whom are eager to learn more about paddling technique and fitness, especially as new racing opportunities bloom all over the world. Cain’s experience, success and professionalism have made him a popular clinic instructor. The demand has been great enough that he has launched a new coaching business, Paddle Monster, along with co-owner John Beausang. The subscription based coaching site is taking off, helping SUP, Outrigger and Surfski paddlers worldwide. Larry is the embodiment of “do what you love, love what you do.” Seems to keep him young.

Some Insight from Larry Cain

How much harder is it to stay at your level of fitness, post-50? Have you had to adapt your training with new types of workouts, training methods, etc.?

Larry: Because I never really let myself “detrain” after retiring from the National Team I seem to be able to tolerate a really high workload in training. I do notice a few differences:

  • I can’t handle the same volume of high intensity work and really have to space intense sessions out well. I also need to make sure these high intensity sessions (speed training, aerobic power, VO2 max type work) are a little shorter than they used to be.
  • I seem to be able to handle a considerable volume of lower intensity work within a one-week or two-week period, but need to make sure that the third week builds in recovery. Proper periodization therefore continues to be as important as it has ever been, perhaps more so.
  • I don’t run nearly as much as I used to because of my knees, but since I paddle year round more than I used to I’ve made up for that with time on the water in the winter, when in the past it used to be dryland work.
  • I have to pay more attention to things like rest (sleep), recovery, nutrition etc. than I used to.

So you have to focus more on recovery now, versus the first half of your paddling career?

Larry: Absolutely. I really feel it if I don’t get enough sleep and frequently fall asleep early in the evening before going to bed. Good thing I’m not a socialite. And I try much harder to eat clean while still getting the carbs and total calories to fuel what I do. I think that is part of parcel of aging in general but more so if you’re try to be a high level athlete.

I also need to address one nagging injury, lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) that I’ve had for 20 years. It’s been great lately but I do need to stay on top of it with stretching, ice, occasional anti-inflammatories etc.

Have you adopted any of the more modern recovery techniques, such as cupping, cold tubs, etc.?

Larry: I’ve done cupping for my elbow but it is difficult on that part of the body. Otherwise no. My budget for professional care in this regard is limited. I find that is another reason why doing my strength training homework and carefully monitoring workload and following proper periodization is important.

Have you been modifying your diet and nutrition in small ways, or radically, over the last few years?

Larry: Small ways really. It’s evolved basically to a point where I’m just trying to eat cleaner, like any other 50 something should be doing. I look at it like when you get older your margin for error is less. This is particularly true for an older athlete. But no changes have been radical. Just a constant awareness and slow evolution of dietary habits.

How serious are you about stretching on a regular basis? When and how long do you incorporate stretching into your routine?

Larry: Not very. I don’t stretch enough and never really have. I do stretch my elbow. Otherwise most of what I do is dynamic stretching and my warm ups and cool downs are done on the water with slow, careful paddling in which I gradually increase range of motion and load. I should probably stretch more but in a busy day that is what usually gets left out or cut short. It seems to work out okay for me, though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for others.

When it comes to training and racing, do you feel like you have banked knowledge that gives you an advantage over your younger competition, who may have a physiological edge, but not your experience?

Larry: It depends on the type of racing. In big water ocean races I’m still a neophyte. I have a lot to learn which makes it fun because it’s not all about fitness for which training can be drudgery; it’s more about skills that can be developed while having ridiculous amounts of fun.

In flat water it is another matter. I think my experience AND fitness helps enormously. Tactically for races like Chattajack I’m really strong and I think there is a mental toughness that comes with age that allows you to grind it out for 5 hours or more without it being an ordeal. I liken myself to a reliable old diesel pickup rather than an expensive sports car like a Ferrari. And I’m not entirely certain that in a long endurance race like Chattajack that the young guys have a great physiological edge. I think that pertains more to shorter, “sprint” races.

After many years of training and competing at such a high level, have you ever felt really burned out, like you were losing passion for the grind of training and racing?

Larry: Never. Paddling has never stopped capturing my imagination. SUP has done an especially good job at that as there are so many facets to it there’s just so much to learn and enjoy.

How have the continued growth of SUP racing, and the development of new designs and equipment kept you fired up on the sport and life as an athlete in general?

Larry: Well first off just finding new paddling disciplines to have fun in has kept me interested to this point. But in SUP for sure the constant development in boards has made it more interesting and keeps me really excited about paddling. In that regard I’m thankful I ride for Starboard. Their innovation is fantastic and they keep coming up with boards that I can make go faster. There is a learning curve for each new board to be sure, but getting the new boards dialed in is great fun. And once you do and you realize you’ve made yet another improvement it is amazing. The cool thing is it isn’t just that the new boards are better, but that the new designs actually make me paddle better to maximize what they can do. So they are helping me evolve my skills continually. For that I am extremely grateful.

Is racing still your main focus, or is coaching becoming a more important component of your career at this stage?

Larry: They’re both important. I see no reason why I can’t devote my energies to both. Clearly now that I co-own a business, Paddle Monster, which is based on providing coaching and a training community to paddlers in a variety of paddle disciplines, coaching and running a business is a priority. At the same time, training to race is like a daily laboratory for me where I can test out ideas, learn new things and develop new experiences that make me a better coach. And racing, while providing these same opportunities as training also helps keep me relevant (especially if I do well), which is always good for business.

Do you feel like your coaching brings your career full circle?

Larry: I always knew that I wanted to become a coach because I was extremely fortunate to learn from and be influenced by excellent coaches as a young athlete. To me there was never a doubt that paddling would be a life long pursuit because those that had a huge impact on me and got me started in the right direction in the sport were lifers themselves.

I’m thankful not only that I can wake up and enjoy paddling everyday but also make a living now doing it. I feel like I’m living my dream every day.

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