24-year old Portland, Oregon resident Eric Lagerstrom has really stepped it up late this year with several fine results and we had a few words with him to understand how this all came together. Now watch out.
Slowtwitch: Hi there Eric.
Eric Lagerstrom: Hi Herbert, thanks for the chat!
ST: You had a wonderful end to your season. Did that somewhat exceed your expectations or does fall into the category of if you don’t believe in yourself it won’t happen?
Eric: Thanks! I had a good talk with my coach, Paulo, before Vegas Super Sprint that had the theme "Relax. Stop thinking you need to be the best all the time and just do what you can right now." I tend to get worked up over outcome and blur things I can control with those I can’t. I went into my remaining races without expectations, and with the intent to simply express my fitness. It was a lower pressure approach and it seemed to work well. My training has been a very steady progression, and I think my racing is starting to follow suit.
ST: I guess you need confidence, but not unreasonable pressure.
Eric: Exactly. It’s one thing to be confident in what you can do and another to expect some sort of miracle from yourself on race day. It sets up for frustration and negativity the second you aren’t performing up to the super-high expectation you have for yourself.
ST: Along those lines, was the runner-up spot at Life Time Fitness Oceanside the season highlight or would you it was the Elite Sprint Championship title?
Eric: Getting the National Title in Vegas was probably the highlight of my career so far. My longtime friends and sponsors, the owners of Athletes Lounge, made it over from Interbike. Having them there at the finish line was a rush like nothing I've ever experienced. They supported and believed in me even before I got my professional license and it was awesome to share that moment of victory with them.
ST: Does that super sprint format suit you especially well or was it just a question of the right form at the time?
Eric: I love it. It is far and away my favorite type of racing and it certainly suits my strengths. It requires really fast transitions, lots of explosiveness, and strong bike handling skills. I also think my involvement in bike racing over the years has given me a leg up when it comes to tactics and fast-paced race dynamics.
ST: What experience did you have with bike racing?
Eric: I started racing bikes in Portland when I was 14. My then triathlon coach Bryant Howard saw the value and put me in the Tuesday night circuit races at Portland international raceway. During the winter we would ride the trainer, watch ITU and UCI races, and discuss the race dynamics. With points from the occasional stage race, I made it to Cat2 before I left to work with Paulo last year.
ST: Who was your swim coach?
Eric: My swim coach was Bud Taylor of Mt. Hood Swim Team.
ST: How did you get involved with triathlon?
Eric: Bryant Howard put on a triathlon clinic for our swim team when I was 12, and showed me a love for the sport. We stayed in touch after I did my first race and every time I wanted to get a little more serious about tri, he was there to show me the way. I owe a lot to him. I didn’t go all in straight from the gun, it wasn’t until I was 17 and AG Nationals came to Portland that swimming took a back seat to triathlon.
ST: What about that race or time of your life helped you make the switch?
Eric: I had trained triathlon every summer but the opportunity to race National Champs was very exciting for me and I did a bit of winter training to prepare. I got second in my AG and then first the following year. That was by far a stronger result than any I had in swimming to that point and it made me think that if I switched my focus to triathlon maybe I could be a Pro someday.
ST: Talking about racing as a Pro, how did you enjoy racing in the dark in Vegas?
Eric: It was the coolest. Marc Lees is the man and I hope he gets the support he needs to put the event on again next year. He put a lot of resources into making sure everything was done with the highest level of professionalism and the atmosphere with the lights and the strip was second to none.
ST: What did that late start do to you in terms of being rested and getting food in?
Eric: After the morning qualifier I just went back to bed and rested super hard! 3 hours before race start I began my pre-race protocol just like I would for a 7am or a 3pm start. I had a sub sandwich while I watched the B final, drank some coffee, and I hydrated. I think racing ITU with all the mid-day and afternoon races definitely prepares you to be flexible in your preparation.
ST: Once the race was over did you get coach’s permission to go out and play?
Eric: Unfortunately not. It would have been fun to do Vegas but there was still business to attend to. Joe, Jason and I had to race Lifetime Tempe on Saturday, so we went straight back and got some sleep. Usually, he gives us the green light to relax a bit, as long as we're ready for workout the next morning. A consolation prize was going to Interbike on the way out of town and seeing one of my sponsors, Rolf Prima. That’s really more my speed than gambling anyway, I could talk bikes all day!
ST: So how did the Tempe event go for you?
Eric: It was a bit rough immediately after the Super Sprint, but it represented an opportunity to race with minimal financial risk. I wasn’t feeling sharp, but everything went decently well up until the run when I tried to go out with Stuart Hayes. My realistic expectations mantra clearly hadn’t fully sunken in yet. I blew up hard at 5k, falling from 5th(?) to 10th. When Jason came by me with 800 to go I think I heard a whoosh of wind. I was toast.
ST: Maybe no financial gain, but life lessons learned.
Eric: I actually made $75! I bet Lifetime had a good laugh when they sent that check out, but very bit helps with the off season looming. As for experience, it was still a very high effort and it was a good non-draft refresher before Oceanside.
ST: In Oceanside your mind must have played a role too with Joe Maloy breathing down your neck and Cam Dye dangling like a carrot ahead of you.
Eric: Definitely. I paced myself pretty conservatively for the first half of the run. I was stoked to be in the top three and I wanted to finish on the podium and avoid a major blow-up. The Oceanside course had a lot of u-turns and when I saw Joe getting closer at every one, I knew it was only a matter of time before he caught me. I realized that if I wanted to be on the podium, I was going to have to catch Cam, which meant closing the 30-second gap in just over 2 miles. Joe caught me with a mile to go and we ran side by side for a bit, just like another Triathlon Squad tempo run! There is no way I would have run that fast without Joe chasing me down. In the end I somehow managed to break Joe, catch Cam with 300 meters to go, and hold it all the way to the line.
ST: You biked especially well in Oceanside.
Eric: Yeah! I actually stole Joe's race plan sort of! He told me, "I just do whatever Hunter does and try to outrun him." The idea seems simple enough, but it made me realize that I just needed to commit to going with the race no matter what happened. I sort of had Cam and Ben in my head since outrunning Hunter would be a pretty tall order for me, so when they took off out of T2, I just went all in and tried to keep them in sight. Every time we u-turned and I could still see them through the fog I was thinking, "Wow! This is awesome, I must be flying!!" I don't have any sort of bike computer currently, so having incredibly experienced, classy athletes around to gauge off of is great.
ST: When do you think you can see those guys as equals?
Eric: I think I’m almost there. I don’t show up to races hoping to get Hunter’s autograph anymore, but these guys have been doing this a long time and I have a lot of respect for their work. They know their bodies, know how to race and I’m looking forward to future battles!
ST: At the more recent Fearless Tri you were third behind Ben Kanute and Tommy Zafares. Talk about that race.
Eric: First off, it was an awesome race and I had an absolute blast racing with those two guys! I had really hoped Joe and Jason would be at the front with us as well, but if there’s one thing that format teaches you, it’s that you need to be ready for any situation. The sprint finish should make for some very exciting television! The three of us worked together extremely well through the whole race until the last 200 meters of the second bike, when Tommy made his signature move, attacking into transition and starting the third run with a three second gap. Ben and I chased him down, and that took enough out of me that when it came to the last lap I couldn’t go with the move. It really hurt to watch the two of them sprint it out at the end, but I gave everything I had on the day, and I just need to be a little better next time.
ST: So what is next for you?
Eric: I’m right in the middle of my year-end break. At the moment it’s pouring rain here at my parent’s house in Portland, Oregon, so I’m banking indoor time, enjoying excellent Portland coffee! I haven’t nailed down a race schedule yet, but it will look very similar to this year; ITU focus with non-draft races fit in whenever I can.
ST: Do you get to eat and drink whatever you want right now?
Eric: Yep, Portland provides the perfect setting with its food and drink culture. Between expensive coffee and microbrews I’ll be well hydrated at least! The idea is to come back to training with zero “I wish I had done….” statements in my head.
ST: When will this year-end break end and I am assuming it is not December 31?
Eric: Haha nope, next year’s training starts in about a week. There’s a lot of work to be done!
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Eric: Follow me on Twitter! My Triathlon Squad mates are thrashing me in the contest for followers. It's embarrassing.
You can follow Eric Lagerstrom on Twitter at @ELagerstrom