Eric Lagerstrom qualified for his professional card in 2011 at 22 years old. By 2014, he was placing in the top five in ITU Continental Cup races. In 2018, he switched to long distance, non-draft triathlon with immediate success. Last year, he was second place at Ironman Indian Wells. He continued to place in the top ten at several other half Ironmans and grabbed 19th overall at Ironman 70.3 World Championships. And really, he’s just getting started.
When talking with Eric, you get an immediate sense of his passion – for the sport, for community, for creative endeavors – and refreshingly, his humble attitude and genuine approach to life. Besides training several hours a day, Eric also owns a video production company, and together with his girlfriend, Paula Findlay, he is building a brand to promote their love for the sport. He’s busy, but you don’t get that sense when you talk with him. For Eric, it’s about keeping a sense of relaxed intention in every little thing.
“When I was first turning pro and going through the Olympics, it felt pretty easy to be intensely myopic. I slept on an air mattress and lived in a house with several other guys. We're all trying to go to the Olympics and just four years of your life, just boom, disappears, the day-to-day training and fatigue blur together.”
In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell explains his theory of the 10,000-Hour Rule: practicing a specific task for 20 hours a week for 10 years. Now, multiply that by three to be the best at triathlon. No doubt to be a professional there is definitely natural talent involved; however, it also takes an incredible capacity for immense mental and physical endurance, and a lot of time.
Perhaps it was the balance he had as a teen that gave Eric the ability to train with balance as a professional. He didn’t do twice a day swim practice as a teen or even Saturday morning practice. He spent Saturdays doing everything fast: skateboarding, snowboarding, longboarding, etc. And now training as a professional he stays balanced. For years his training has looked like: a bit more swimming than most pro triathletes, a bit less biking, and about the same amount of running. It’s even.
At the 2013 Escape From Alcatraz, Eric had a career defining win. The race was amazing, but it was his ability to enter that race without expectation, and still give his all that provided him the biggest lesson.
"I was in the shape of my life - running better than I've ever run maybe even to this day, and I honestly didn't think I had a chance… So, you kind of relieve yourself from expectation. On race day, there was this unfolding magical thing. I swam well. My only goal was being in the mix. Halfway through the bike I thought maybe I'd have a chance of getting top 10. And just as the race went on I realized I'm still here, wow, I'm still here… And then it was only a few miles to go, we caught up to Josh Amberger. I was just behind Andy Potts. I realized, I can't not see this through to the end. I caught back up on the downhill. The whole time it was just, Wow, I can't believe it, I can't believe it."
The balance of removing expectation, yet still being fully dedicated to the moment is easier said than done. For Eric though, it was a lesson his parents emphasized. A key phrase they reiterated to him was to ‘do what you love and do your very best at it,’ so whatever he does or for however long, it is 100%. Eric has a close relationship with both parents; his dad is a mentor and a best friend. Much of his approach to training and life he gained from his dad, “My dad's very methodical; very hyper-logical, everything's pretty even keel, stoic even. And that’s my philosophy: control what you can control, do what you can do. Adapt. Go with the flow.”
As a professional athlete, Eric practices this constant balance of training hard and stepping back to rest. He actually takes a true offseason, usually a month to recalibrate. During that time, he dives deep into other passions: videography, building out his van, enjoying daily life with those closest to him.
Throughout peak training, he stays aware of where he’s at physically, emotionally or mentally. For most of us and especially for the pros, it’s really easy to become obsessive, myopic even, with training and racing. We love it right? But in our minds, a bad swim will result in a disappointing race, a workout tanked, or something feeling off becomes a harbinger of injury. Or it’s the opposite. Things are great, confidence builds, and as a result so do expectations.
Refreshingly, Eric’s perspective and approach to the sport is based on his humble, yet unbridled love for each moment he gives to it. “If I haven't been out on my bike and had this moment of looking around and going, ‘Wow, this is so cool.’ It’s a Wednesday, and I’m on my bike. It's beautiful. And if I haven't had one of those moments in a week or two, I can kind of pick up on it and I step back and go, dude, don't be like that, this is pretty amazing. This is what little 15-year-old you always wanted.”
His approach is working. He continues to improve year after year. With 2020 on hold for racing, we’ll have to wait till 2021 to see what’s next. Regardless, he’s using this time wisely. Eric launched “That Triathlon Life” via his YouTube channel and social media to share his passion. He aims to show how accessible the sport is, that racing doesn’t have to be the end result, and that triathlon can be enjoyed in tandem with a full life beyond the sport as well.
For sure, he’s still using this time to train well and find ways to improve. But, he’s taking it a bit more relaxed than usual. If he needs an easier day or a day more focused on his videography, he can do that. And he’s keeping it fun and lighthearted—because really, sport is meant to be fun. So, he may swim in a lake, or drive to a trailhead instead of the track for his tempo run, or take out the mountain bike for a ride or two. Races and outcomes don’t have to define what we do. Now more than ever, we can step back, enjoy the process, and the joy of the day to day.