After being the odd man out and missing qualification for the 2016 Olympic Team, Eric Lagerstrom faced a fork in the road. He opted to take the road less traveled, bought a RV, gutted it, and took off on a rampage around the country. Along the way, he won a few iconic races like Escape from Alcatraz and St. Anthony’s. Then the rising star from Portland, Oregon cashed in on a longstanding dream. He invented his own version of a triathlon, bucking the traditional swim-bike-run format and created a film to share the adventure.
Slowtwitch: Earlier this week you released a film on a new triathlon you created. Can you tell us about it?
Eric Lagerstrom: Yeah! For a long time now, I've dreamt of a less rigid form of triathlon. Quite simply, swim-bike-run. Full stop. No standardized lengths, orders, anything. Just cover terrain. My first attempt to bring this vision to life was "Solstice Sessions", a film about a point to point day of triathlon through the Columbia River Gorge, which separates Oregon and Washington state. It was an epic day, but I almost immediately started thinking, 'What if we took this one step further and didn't let ourselves be constrained by paved roads.' Overland Triathlon was born.
ST: How did come up with this concept? What’s your goal with Overland Tri?
Lagerstrom: My goal with everything I "create" is just to get people thinking and get them fired up about their sport. If I can get people to realize that triathlon isn't all about struggling and self deprivation, but also the moments of joy you find along the way. I want people to think "Why do I need to do an Ironman? Why don't I think up something better?" To me, triathlon was created as a challenge, not a badge of honor, and you can create a challenge anywhere, and find that rush of excitement that comes from being on the edge.
ST: It appears you’re in a transitional year in your racing career. You started out in short distance races but this year you’ve had breakthroughs over the half-distance. Have you found your happy place?
Lagerstrom: The half distance has been an exciting step for me to take. I've raced Olympic distance for 13 years, predominantly in the ITU (draft legal) world, and 70.3 represented a new challenge. I think the distance suits my natural abilities, but my favorite part of it so far has been the culture. Just like the local non-draft races I grew up doing, the vibe at a lot of half-distance races is considerably more laid-back. It's not that I didn't enjoy the rush and the excitement of "the show" that is ITU racing, but rather that I enjoy the personal connections you can make when you're a little closer to the age group athletes who are doing the sport purely for the love of it. I train and race my best when I'm doing it because I love it. Every time I focus on a prize purse or a podium position, I get tense. If I just chase that feeling of speed and doing something better than I ever have before, I feel weightless.
ST: You made it a point during your short course career to take fans along for the ride with your point-of-view highlight videos. Have your fans made the transition into long course racing with you?
Lagerstrom: I think a lot of my fans were already there! I like to think I brought a few eyeballs to the ITU world that might not have made it there otherwise. At least in the USA, draft-legal racing is relatively unknown alongside Ironman. When I announced that I was going to try some long course racing, most of my fans and sponsors were stoked, because I was finally stepping into the realm they were most familiar with.
ST: What is the vision with Transition Four?
Lagerstrom: It's a vision in progress. I have a feeling about what it should be as a company, and it's getting more clear, but at it's core, it's a way of thinking. Transition Four is a conduit I created for sharing a vision of triathlon without limits. I want it to be a source of inspiration for people wondering "what's next" once they've done their first, second, third triathlons. I think triathlon increasingly is a one-and-done event for the general public, and I want to bring content, events, whatever, to those people that leave them wanting more. Transition Four is for giving back to the triathlon culture what I've gotten through my 17 years in the sport.
ST: In past seasons you’ve bought and renovated old vans and turned them into adventure vans. How does that hobby fit into your personality? Any particularly memorable stories from the road?
Lagerstrom: I like to create things. Even since I was 6 years old, I was turning my wagon into spaceships, race cars, you name it. There's something special about using your hands to make something better, or to even make something that didn't exist. I built out my first van twice because I had a bunch of ideas on how to make it better. My most recent project, my classic motorhome, is essentially a "tiny home" on wheels. I'll be taking it to St. George, Utah, and hopefully to a few races in the west this year.
ST: Any races left this season?
Lagerstrom: Just one! 70.3 Los Cabos! Then it's back to Oregon to pick up the motorhome, do a little camping, and unwind before "getting back to work". It's ironic to say that sometimes, considering I do my favorite thing in the world as a "job".
ST: Where can we find you in 2019?
Lagerstrom: Mostly in the US, doing the major 70.3 races, and non-draft olympic distance races. My season opener will probably be 70.3 Oceanside. My big focus for the year is 70.3 Worlds in Nice, France though. I want to bring home a podium there, which will take a great season and an epic race. The season will be planned around that.
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All images courtesy of Outer Elements Photography.