By TJ Flynn
Larry with an injury is Sinatra with a cold, Tiger with the yips.
With an injury, Larry’s world rotates a little slower, just a touch off-kilter. Those times when he manages to glimpse his stationary bike, his palms will bead and his heart will flutter ever so slightly, for Larry’s bike should be a thing of movement, particularly at this time of year.
The injury happened mid-summer – of all times – right at the crest of high-season in the world of duathlon. It was one of those wild but common cycling incidents that inflict athletes from time to time: an unexpected bump in the road, a slight lift off of the saddle, an uncomfortable reconnection with gravity.
Those two millimetres of air time were enough to alter the flow of Larry’s summer.
If you follow him on Strava – and you probably do – then you’ll imagine this incident taking place somewhere on the western edge of Toronto, somewhere with many strip malls and stop lights and suburban eateries, and after flipping through his Strava files you’ll have wondered, too, how the man can ever reach such impressive bike speeds amongst such an urban landscape. But that’s Larry – forever defying logic, forever redefining boundaries for age groupers.
Take this as an example. Back in May 2005, he decided to improve his fitness. Like many who had turned the corner into their third decade and had let things slip for one reason or another during their busy twenties, he’d had enough of the quasi-sedentary lifestyle. The odd rip at the ice rink just wasn’t cutting it.
So he earmarked the Niagara International Marathon in October of that year, got to work on a programme and with only a few months of training under his belt, ran an impressive 3:40.
Two years later, he returned to Niagara for his second marathon. This time, he qualified for Boston.
In between those two bookends, a significant act was played out. While scouring the internet for running races, he stumbled across an upcoming duathlon. Run-Bike-Run. He’d never been much of a biker but the mix of sports grabbed his attention. As it happened, the race was taking place the following weekend, so Larry set out for the nearest sports store and bought a bike for $500.
He toed the line that weekend not knowing what to expect and when he was done, he simply wanted more. More biking, more running, more duathlon, more improvement.
The winter that followed was filled with training. He bought a new bike, a livelier, more aerodynamic bike, and in the summer, raced his first MultiSport Canada event at Binbrook.
He led the first run, was eventually caught on the bike, and ended up finishing fourth overall. Since then, he’s been fiercely loyal to the series.
“It was just such a light-hearted, welcoming experience for me,” he says. “From day one racing with MultiSport, I could feel the friendly atmosphere.”
Now, with this summer’s slight injury thankfully beginning to recede into the rear-view, there’s still MultiSport races to race, still time for Larry to satisfy his hunger to race and succeed and improve.
Over recent years, he’s become the standard bearer for duathlon, the guy they all try to catch. But between Binbrook and today, there were some potholes along the along, some experimenting with triathlon and bike racing.
In 2009, after some coaxing from his FMCT teammates, he began to swim and gave triathlon a shot, finishing sixth overall in his first triathlon at Lakeside. He came out of the water that day in 131st place out of nearly 300 athletes, then he chewed his way through the field on the bike before mowing down some more bibs on the run.
He has a natural curiosity for sport and continued to spread his net wide, this time seeking out longer bike races and Centurion and Tour de Hans success seemed to be pointing towards a bike-centric 2012.
“I was really enjoying the social training aspect of cycling but the races were not satisfying,” he says. “All the work during a race would always lead to a dangerous sprint and ‘round about this time, duathlon started calling me back.”
He placed first at Woodstock, first at the Welland long course and first in the Ontario Age Group championships and by then, the fuse was well and truly lit.
“I was starting to really find my love of the sport and wanted to race more du’s. I had one last cycling race planned, so I rode it but ended up crashing hard in a bunch sprint. That was the end of the season for me and the end of cycling racing for this old man!”
Since then he’s embraced the sport in a very significant way, reaching out to others to open them up to what duathlon has to offer, promoting the sport on a local and Provincial level.
“It would be great to introduce more people and grow the sport, because it has such potential. So many people are drawn to triathlon and single sport events, it’s difficult to attract people to duathlon, but once they experience it, they tend to stick with it.”
“And like I said, it’s such a family spirit at MultiSport. There’s a group racing solid with MultiSport for about three years now and the competition level is pretty high. We race hard but we all want to see each other excel, we all want to push each other on.”
“Before a race, in transition, it’s a very supportive atmosphere. We want to see people improve and from a newcomer perspective, we’re all very, very approachable and more than happy to answer questions or help out in any way.”
“And MultiSport is also pushing hard to ensure that the sport grows. John [Salt] has been amazing. He’s put a bunch of duathletes on the Ambassador Team and that’s helped a lot. We’ve created some chatter on social media and we’re doing everything we can to spread the word about the sport.”
He’s now nudged into his fourth decade and is getting faster. If he ever leafs through his old data he’ll find that his 2016 run times are ahead of anything he’s put out before, his one kilometre splits are the fastest they’ve ever been.
There’s pressure, of course, to stay ahead of the chasing pack and questions, constant questions.
“I ask myself ‘can I still compete?’ I see the younger guys like Spencer [Summerfield] and Garvin [Moses] coming up and pushing hard, so I’ve got to do the same. I’m aiming to maintain my run and get faster on the bike.
“It takes a lot of drive to push your body. I’m not as peppy as I was ten years ago and sometimes you don’t feel like going out there and putting in the work, but in the end, I can always talk myself into it.
“Maybe because I came to the sport a little later I’m more inclined to work hard keep my fitness, to keep trying to push things to the next level. Maybe it’s because I know that if I stop running or biking my fitness could fall away. “Either way, I’m seeing guys like David Frake [former Canadian Duathlon National Champion and ITU Duathlon World Champion] drive things into his forties and that gives me confidence, gives me desire, to keep pushing ahead.”
The following day, after you’ve chatted, you’ll flip though your Strava feed and see that Larry’s back on the bike, injury bedamned. He’s navigating the streets and canyons around Mississauga once more, pushing himself forward, pushing us all forward at the same time.
Question: “Where did the nickname ‘Larry the Falcon’ come from?”
Larry: “Back when I was starting out in duathlon and setting up some stuff on social media, I was looking for some kind of identifier. I was training with FMCT out of Brampton and they are nicknamed ‘the Falcons.’ So I took it and it’s stuck since then.”