“We all ran out of transition together really fast and, from what I could tell, that surprised Arthur a little bit because I don't think he's used to anybody running with him ever.”
American Eric Lagerstrom isn’t a regular on the full XTERRA circuit but he is certainly a feature. Splitting his time between road and off-road racing, when Lagerstrom shows up to race, he strikes hot. Kicking off his World Cup campaign with a 2nd place Full Distance finish in Oak Mountain, the 34 year-old took a lot of European favorites by surprise when he was able to put Arthur Serrières under pressure.
“I was a little bit surprised that Arthur came over from Europe to race it because usually that race is pretty much just Americans or people based in the U. S., but I guess that's kind of a byproduct of the World Cup,” Lagerstrom says. “That's the first XTERRA that I've done for the second time so I felt a little bit better equipped to attack and I knew how the flow of the course was and where I could put out effort.”
As one of the fastest swimmers, Lagerstrom led the race from the start but it was his run that really made the racing. Serrieres is often unmatched on foot but Lagerstrom didn’t let him get away without a fight. “That was fun for me,” Lagerstrom smiles. “Even though I gave up 30 or 20 seconds by the end. If I can make it to the end of the bike with these guys, I definitely have the run legs. To be racing like that, that’s kind of what I’m after at this point in my career.”
Lagerstrom has been an athlete his whole life, starting his professional triathlon career racing short course in 2012 and then eventually moving into middle distance and becoming a contender on the half ironman circuit. Lagerstrom did 3 XTERRA races between 2021 and 2022 but with a chronic hip injury making road racing difficult, this season he has favored the mountain bike and racing XTERRA more. Currently sitting just outside the top ten in the World Cup Rankings, Lagsterstrom has only raced in two World Cup stops, completing both the Full Distance and Short Track at Oak Mountain and in Germany.
However, with over a decade racing professionally in the sport, his hip really isn’t the only reason he’s focused on XTERRA this season. Not only does Lagerstrom see it as a new challenge that engages his technical skills as an athlete, but XTERRA speaks to Lagerstrom on a level beyond performance.
“I really like that XTERRA requires some technical ability. I grew up doing a little bit of mountain biking and riding some BMX, jumping off anything I could and making jumps in the front yard. I feel like riding a 70.3 doesn’t utilize any of those skills I have. I feel like the guys I’m racing against [on the road] are, for the most part, just suffer monsters. They’re good at riding a trainer and just closing their eyes and embracing the hurt and not looking around. I’m just a little bit more…”
Lagerstrom pauses before he selects the perfect adjective: “Romantic.”
“I like pretty courses that have rolling hills, just more dynamic stuff,” he explains. But his pause is revealing and there’s more to it than challenging trails and beautiful scenery.
At heart, Lagerstrom is a creative. His perspective on the world is one that is innately artistic and he sees and experiences triathlon through the same lens—literally, actually.
Lagerstrom is a photographer and videographer, creating media content for himself, his fiancée who is also a professional triathlete, and their business, That Triathlon Life. Their many projects, of which Lagerstrom is the central creative, include a podcast, stunning social media, branded apparel, and, the crown jewel of his creations, regular YouTube videos cinematically detailing daily life, racing, and everything in-between (including their dog, Flynn, who is a crowd favorite).
“It’s just something I feel compelled to do,” Lagerstrom says. “I'm always looking around at everything and I feel pretty inspired by nature. You're seeing everything through that lens of what is the most interesting way this scenery looks.”
“I like pretty courses that have rolling hills, just more dynamic stuff.”
Having so many projects and what some would label a split focus doesn’t seem conducive to what is commonly touted as the ideal professional athlete life; however, Lagerstrom explains he has a workflow that doesn’t impede training. “For the most part, I make content about what we're already doing. I kind of take pride in creating a storyline out of what we're already doing so it's as unobtrusive to training as it can possibly be,” he explains. “I think some people make it out that the mental strain maybe is the bigger thing, thinking how am I going to make a story out of this and, you know, not break up with my fiancé and still get to the swimming pool. For the most part, it's just Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings for two or three hours that I'm on my laptop editing, and maybe I'm laying on the couch, so it works.”
Still, it’s hard to accept that his many projects don’t get in the way of performance but, again, Lagerstrom pushes back against that absolute. “I wouldn't say that I don't have tunnel vision with the sport; I just don't have tunnel vision with training. Everything that I do is based around the sport. All the mini business arms, if you want to call it that, with the YouTube channel, and the podcast, our website, and selling apparel, that’s all still triathlon. Really, it’s me feeling like this is what I want to do in the sport and what I feel like I want to see happen in the sport.”
“I wouldn't say that I don't have tunnel vision with the sport; I just don't have tunnel vision with training."
“I have been extremely focused. I've lived as an ITU athlete with four guys in a room and just done nothing else at all. It's gone well and it's gone terribly at times, and I definitely found that having a more multifaceted approach keeps me happy— and if I didn't have that, I don't think I would even be in the sport. It's not really a matter of how my athletic performance is doing with or without it, it's just this is what's allowed me to be in the sport for so long whereas everybody that I started out with back in 2012 and 2013 as professional athletes has been out of it for 6 plus years.”
More than just a means to an end, Lagerstrom sees his longevity in the sport beyond his own performance—publicly claiming he wants to be known for getting more people into the sport than any other athlete—and his creative work is central to that idea.
“This is the way that I can contribute the most with the skill set that I was born with. I've always looked up to and respected Brandon Semenuk in mountain biking and John John Florence in surfing. Those guys were really great high level athletes and then they really stamped their brand on the sport through content and beautiful video pieces. Those are the things that ultimately get the masses excited about mountain biking or surfing and into the sport or even just outside. I'll watch those things while I'm riding the trainer just because it makes me feel excited and I feel an emotion. I think that I have the ability to get more people in the sport that way than by getting second place at world championships or winning a 70.3.”
It’s exactly why he is taking his friend and podcast co-host Nick Goldston to the XTERRA World Championships in Molveno. “Essentially, his job is to make sure that we have really great video coverage of [Molveno and the race] so that I can story-tell a little bit better than I can when it's just me holding the camera and trying to do life and capture it at the same time.”
Lagerstrom’s creative goals are side-by-side his performance ambitions for the World Championship and when it comes to talking race strategy, he is already dialed in.
“I'll be out of the water in the lead, maybe with one other person,” he says matter-of-factly. “[On the bike] my eyes will probably be on my power meter climbing up the mountain the first time and I'm hoping I can get 20 minutes before I get caught by everybody.”
“[On the bike] my eyes will probably be on my power meter climbing up the mountain the first time and I'm hoping I can get 20 minutes before I get caught by everybody.”
“Then I'll be watching Lucas Kocar, who seems to be the guy who leads the charge until it gets really steep and then the French dudes will stop sucking wheel and just attack him. Then Jens Emil, I'm sure, will probably catch all of us at some point.”
“I don't quite know exactly how their group dynamic is but as soon as somebody comes by me, I'm just going to do anything I can to hang on to their wheel.”
Lagerstrom admits he’s had to adapt his training this year to be better prepared for XTERRA racing, especially in the lead up to Molveno. Perhaps that makes him an outlier but, for Lagerstrom, it’s made it all the more exciting. “Going out and doing a different type of training and trying to see if I can actually see some improvement is exciting and interesting. The idea of making it 90% of the way through the bike, or as far as I can with the guys who are the best climbers, so I can be in it when the run comes around—I'm really excited.”
No matter what his performance in Molveno, there will be a story worth telling in images, words, and sounds—and perhaps it’s that exact combination that is his most creative achievement of all. His à la carte style of mixing sport, art, community, and business isn’t about making triathlon a career, it’s about creating a life. It’s a slight but unique divergence that has kept Lagerstrom at the top of the sport and in the hearts of fans and sponsors for such a long time.
“This is all by design and I can't imagine doing anything else,” he says.
“I got a YouTube channel and got into photography and all this stuff not because it was a good business decision, it's just that it felt right. That's what I was compelled to do and I have kind of just always followed my heart. It’s the same thing with triathlon. I couldn't imagine working at a desk. I could imagine being a pro triathlete so I went 110% in that direction and risked a lot to do it. I’ve just kind of continued to follow what feels right.”
“This is all by design and I can't imagine doing anything else.”
“When I think about what I would do if I wasn't doing what I was doing right now, it's like, no, this is exactly what I want to be doing and I love it.”
Update: Due to an unfortunate last minute injury, Eric Lagerstrom will no longer be on the start line for the 2023 XTERRA World Championship.
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