FR. Footprints: Eric Lagerstrom
In March of 2020, for the first time in my life, I watched Youtube – and not to learn how to setup or fix my Garmin that never ever works…I will be switching to Wahoo shortly...better product it seems and incredible branding.
I went deep into YouTube with gravel riding videos, Casey Neistat, photographer Peter McKinnon, Japanese pottery and discovered a channel called That Triathlon Life. I couldn’t stop watching these episodes because they were an inside look at the lives of two pros, but done in a way that was inviting and incredibly interesting. It was transparent and I felt like I knew Eric and Paula personally just from watching the shows.
I have a long background in triathlon with a brand I had started in the 90’s - Rip N hammer . I have done a lot of branding and creative work in both cycling and mulitisport including working with Cervelo in the early days and I developed the identity logo system for Open Cycles through my relationship with Gerard Vroomen.
I know the sport inside and out and have raced on and off since 1989 including 8 Ironman Races–all poorly executed with 10:21 being as fast as I got to. However, I still love the sport and think it is in a great place with respect to the level of talent right now.
In the sport of triathlon, nobody has ever been able to build a brand for the lifestyle of the sport. You wear a race t-shirt, maybe surf shorts and some Patagonia with a lot of Lululemon sprinkled in.
Eric Lagerstrom wrote on Instagram he was looking for a logo for his production company Transition Four, so I sent him a note saying I have some experience in triathlon and also own a branding and design firm called The Brand Unification Co. We developed his Transition Four identity for Eric and I asked him what his plan was for That Triathlon Life as I saw the opportunity for it to be an authentic lifestyle company and brand for triathletes. Stuff they could wear every day. Stuff that stood for something. Eric went deeper into conversations with me about what this could look like and I developed a complete identity system for him and Paula and their brand–we started this in April/May of last year and I have watched Eric and Paula build a brand in under a year that has resonated with people all over the world. People wear TTL stuff into our foreign rider shop and don’t even know we worked together with Eric and Paula on this project. They are always proud to wear TTL.
They made it look easy. They have sold everything they put online. They care about what they make. They have built a world class brand in under a year that nobody else in triathlon has ever been able to do.
If this was a nine inning game, they are in the first inning still and in 5 years they will be one of the biggest athletic brands around. They will completely dominate the sport of triathlon and you will see more That Triathlon Life merchandise at Ironman races than you will see Ironman merchandise in the very near future.
Getting to know Eric has been one of the highlights of my professional career. Developing their identity is one of favourite projects of my career – they executed it with a level of entrepreneurship and professionalism that is very rare to see.
Eric is a product guy too - he knows his shit, but he really is an incredible creator and I can’t wait to work on some films together for FR. with his incredibly unique way of film making and story telling.
And…the dude rips.
If you want an inside look at how we worked together on developing TTL, you can see it at www.buworkshops.com which is a workshop we created to help entrepreneurs build their brand and human connection. It's free to sign up for and will give you an inside look at how TTL developed. It's one of my favourite projects ever because it was incredibly pure and real.
Human connection is something Eric makes look easy with his work and I can’t wait to see where he will be in 5 years from now. Hope you enjoy this one – Eric is solid dude leaving a solid footprint on this planet.
What was your athletic background growing up and when/what age did you know you could become a professional athlete?
I'm a little unique in the American triathlon scene, at least for my generation. I started swimming when I was 7, did my first tri when I was 12, I raced bikes all through high school. I really grew up as a triathlete. I didn't have that "wow I could make this a career" moment until I got third at Age Group worlds (in my age group) when I was 18.
I think the first episode I watched of TTL was you re-building your sprinter into the dream van for any athlete. Take us through the thought process of how you built that out in your mind first and what it was like to execute the project.
This was really my third or fourth van, depending on how you look at it. I built out my first van, a Chevy express, twice, I sold that and bought a 1986 Winnebago, renovated that, and I owned a 1989 Mitsubishi Delica, which will probably remain my favourite vehicle I ever owned. A couple years ago I sold that and bought the sprinter, since Paula came into my life and a Delica was just far too small for two athletes and multiple bikes. Fortunately at that point, I had the experience with all the previous vehicles to know a little about building, and what I wanted and didn't want. We went as bare-bones as possible, starting with just a new floor, bed and storage bins. Over off-season two years ago, I finally put in insulation, counter, storage, and an electrical system so we could charge electronics while camping. I'm proud that there really isn't a single thing in the van that we think "man I wish we didn't do that.. we never use it."
How did you come up with the idea for That Triathlon Life for Youtube being miles ahead of other triathletes who now also have channels?
I actually started things years earlier with race footage from gopros in ITU races in 2015. I'd edit the footage with music, power data, and narrate the strategy and race dynamics. I'm proud to say I actually pioneered that concept, which is now super common in the cycling space. I got the idea from a guy orienteering on his enduro bike in the desert, talking about waypoints and navigation while riding and having speed/compass overlaid on the screen. Then I started making short, 3 minute films, then finally at the Pan American Games in Toronto I made my first ever "vlog" and called it "Viking Life". I always felt like, and still do feel that triathlon needs more beautiful content like other sports. If you're a mountain biker, there's literally endless artistic, exciting videos to consume before going riding, in the name of getting stoked. When I started in 2015 there was zero triathlon anything to be found, so I thought if I got the ball rolling, maybe companies like Red Bull would eventually get involved and create stuff. That Triathlon Life is the evolution of my film making, and essentially marks the beginning of Paula being involved and in my life.
How do you feel the show itself has evolved, but more importantly how do you feel your filmmaking has evolved?
I answered this a little bit above with the lengthy history, but I'd say my technique has naturally progressed as a result of the jump to weekly videos. It doesn't feel like I'm way better now; I would get just as excited two years ago when I nailed an edit. That said, when I go watch a video from 6 months ago, I notice so many things I'd do differently. I usually never watch my videos after I put them up, for that reason. I've just gotten technically much more clean, things flow a lot faster and more smoothly, and I think I've found the right balance of artisticness and relaying information to people. At least for my personal happiness and a modest channel growth.
"I really grew up as a triathlete. I didn't have that 'wow I could make this a career' moment until I got third at Age Group worlds (in my age group) when I was 18."
Your style of shooting is very, very distinct - raw and grainy feeling but incredibly warm and inviting. Do you have influences that you feel developed your aesthetic? Film directors or photographers?
I watched a lot of surf, snowboard, MTB films growing up. More snowboard at first, but a lot of surfing lately. I don't even surf really, but I love the passion and energy it has and that comes through in films. In surf, I like Kai Neville (Modern Collective), Joe G, Dion Agius' career was very inspiring to me. Also anything John John is part of tends to be beautiful, albeit with insanely unattainable production value. In snow, I pretty much idolize Travis Rice - Art of flight was life changing. Torstein Horgo films with Shredbots are the most fun thing you'll ever watch, they heavily inspired me to want to make people smile, not just be in awe. I recommend "Horgasm: A love Story" on youtube and Shredbots 1. Low budget, high fun. Last and actually my biggest, most consistent inspiration, is Rupert Walker of RevelCo. He films Brandon Semenuk, and his work is where I strive to be. I think it's too artistic for the tri scene right now, but I plan to go that direction as I transition out of vlogs someday.
You have been very transparent about your core values with TTL - where did those come from and are there companies you have admired growing up that have shared vision?
Probably my biggest inspiration through my life was RedBull. I don't know a ton about their business practices, but the way they've built their entire marketing strategy around elevating niche sports and athletes through beautiful storytelling is so inspiring and I'm forever grateful. Your company, Foreign Rider, is my biggest inspiration when it comes to excellence and ethical practice in product creation. I don't think I realized I enjoyed business until the last 5 years, when I took it head-on in order to actually make a living in the sport as an athlete.
Whats your feeling on the state of triathlon right now, where its headed, needs to focus its attention and more importantly - how much longer do you want to race?
If triathlon continues the way it's going, I'm not sure I'll race much longer. Maybe a couple years. I'm not that big of a fan of 70.3 racing, and the number of pro races in North America has dwindled to like...3-5? The number of cool courses...3 max. I think Ironman has gotten very lazy and is letting the sport die as they refuse to reinvent themselves, make courses that are challenging, and try to squeeze every drop of money from the sport they can. I believe events like Patagonman, Norseman, Alcatraz, Wildflower, and my private event The Overland Triathlon need to be the focus going forward. Embrace gravel and dirt because it's cost-effective, fun, and it re-introduces the fact that you're doing something you don't know you'll finish. Ironman is too predictable, you really have to screw something up massively to not finish. Ultra running, gravel, mountain biking are going to leave tri in the dust. Literally.
Gravel is growing incredibly fast and its almost taken over my love for triathlon (I have been in and out of the race scene over 30 years) - what’s your take on gravel and where do you see it headed in 5 years from now?
I hope it doesn't follow the same trajectory that I just ranted about with Ironman. The more organized it gets, the more it'll lose the ness that a lot of us have fallen in love with. That said, my view on gravel is the same as my view on triathlon, except everyone already gets it: it can be a lifestyle and you don't even have to "race" or do events. Just the simple act of training, seeking new routes, pushing yourself is enjoyable in and of itself. Mountain biking has this dialed and will never die. Maybe 10% of self-proclaimed mountain bikers have ever done a race. Same with surfing, snow boarding. These sports to have much more inherent opportunity for self-expression and creativity, but I think the potential is there for gravel and tri.
Do you think we will see a swim, gravel, trail run patch of races pop up soon? And what is the ideal distance for that in your opinion?
If you want to put it on with me, I'm ready to go. Overland Triathlon Toronto. OLT Toronto has a nice ring to it. But yeah, I do think it's coming, even if I have to continue to do it myself. The Xtreme tris have dirt runs at least. I think the ideal distance would be a 70.3-ish distance.. That would be 5-8 hours of swim, gravel ride, trail run. There needs to be time left at the end for a kickass party, barbecue, etc. Just like Wildflower. Not awards, a party.
"I don't think I realized I enjoyed business until the last 5 years, when I took it head-on in order to actually make a living in the sport as an athlete."
You are a huge advocate for doing the right thing - what’s your opinion on how Ironman are handling the refund scenario now and moving dates at the last minute. (I personally think its a joke and they will pay the price down the road with their arrogance)
I think it's pretty shitty. But I also agree with (Triathlon) Taren in that we need ironman to survive, at least for the moment, so maybe it's a necessary evil and we're supporting the sport itself in this effed up way through this greedy corporation because it's our only option right now. My dream scenario is that ironman collapses, but sells all it's races back to local race organizers and triathlon has a big reset. I feel like the sport could survive that, but not ironman disappearing entirely. I think what people can do if they're mad about ironman... stop signing up for the races. Sign up for independent, local races. Start a local race, organize a big day with your friends. As long as we live like Ironman IS triathlon, we'll never escape the BS they put us through.
Flynn is a huge part of your life and obviously a huge hit on TTL - what made you decide to choose the breed?
I have no idea, man. I ask myself this every day haha. Ultimately we were going between a totally sedentary dog ( I wanted a pug) and a dog we could run with. A running dog was attractive so Paula could run with it by herself and feel safe, and it's just a very cool thought, right? We probably should have gone with a shorthair pointer, as Fynn overheats very quickly when we're not in Canada. He's good for about an hour right now, which is fine, but he needs a run, two games of fetch, and constant attention any time he's not napping. It's a little overwhelming, and grates on my chill personality, but at the end of the day we love him more than anything and he's our boy.
When I was first getting into triathlon, I was a big fan of Mike Pigg as he didn’t say much yet let his racing do all the talking. I also raced during the era of the Big 4 and 1989 ( Dave and Mark ) is still in my opinion the best race of all time. Were those pros you looked up to growing up?
These guys were slightly before my time. I've watched the ironwar a thousand times, of course, but I grew up watching Peter Reid, Tim Deboom, Macca, Stadler, Faris Al-Sultan. And obviously Simon, Gomez, Jan were big inspirations in the ITU space, where I wanted to go as a kid.
Who do you think is the next Dave and Mark out there that will go head to head pretty much down to the finish in Kona?
That's a tough one...It's hard to imagine anyone touching Jan right now. Maybe as Jan is on the way out, Gustav Iden could give him a run for it.
I am huge fan of Lachlan Morton and how he embraces everything about cycling regardless of the discipline - any dudes in cycling you think are doing interesting stuff?
Yeah Lachlan is top of the list. I've been following since they self-funded Therabouts 1 on vimeo. I think Ted King is trying, but he might be trying too hard. I think Colin Strickland is super fascinating, even if he doesn't spend a lot of time in front of cameras. I'd like to hang out with him someday. Ansel Dickey, who creates as Vermont Social, he's making all the Wahoo stuff and I think he's got more to do with the gravel scene being cool than any athlete, to be honest.
Where do you want to take Transition Four in the next five years? (For those reading in the athletic space - Eric is probably the best creator in that space right now so…)
I want to slowly do less vlogs and more films. Even short, 3 minute ones that I can really put the time into and make as beautiful as I see them in my head. There's not that much time to work with filming a video every week, so I have to leave some shots and concepts on the back burner for now. I want to be exactly like Rupert Walker and Brandon Semenuk and just absolutely blow peoples minds with a progressive piece of content every couple months.
What does TTL look like in 5 years from now (my opinion is it will be the biggest brand in the sport by far)?
I want to have a couple of concept shops/clubhouses around the country in different tri communities. Bend, Tucson, Toronto maybe. Even if they're shipping containers with harder to find products and an espresso machine, that'd be awesome. I'd like to have some adventure camps in rad spots, I want to have at least one full-on event like Overland Triathlon, and I'd like the youtube channel to include multiple different shows. It will probably not be under my name anymore, so we could have another couple pros or cool people have a gear show or something, and I can focus on making those more involved films that I dream about.
"Sign up for independent, local races. Start a local race, organize a big day with your friends. As long as we live like Ironman IS triathlon, we'll never escape the BS they put us through."
TOP 10 albums of all time?
Green Day American Idiot was the first Album I truly listened to as an album. -Kendrick Lamar DAMN. was the second. This one made me realize a full album could tell a story. -Abbey Road, if I go way back to when I just listened to my Dad's music. That's actually probably my favorite. I don't feel super well equipped to answer this question, honestly. I jump around with genres so much, especially while searching for music that inspires my videos, I rarely get the opportunity to listen to an album all the way through.
Where in your opinion does the best coffee come from?
From people who love growing coffee. It has nothing to do with economics. My favorite coffee yet is the Niceragua Catui we put out with TTL this month. I could honestly drink the espresso all day, it's so so good. A little earthy, not bitter at all, just warmth.
Favourite race course?
Escape From Alcatraz.
Mark Allen in his prime vs Frodeno?
Both on current technology in Kona - who wins? Frodo. If Mark also had access to a life growing up in the sport and modern training techniques, then who knows...But Frodo was born and raised to do triathlon.
Are we going to see you in Toronto for the FR. 125 Rooster Ride this fall? Each finisher gets the coveted FR. Rooster Cap.
Totally depends on the date and the Covid, but I'm really hoping to be there!
When I owned Rip N Hammer we used to sell to Gervais Rioux in Montreal when Argon 18 was in its infancy - how did your relationship develop with them and how do you feel they are different than other brands in such a competitive space?
I think they truly put the athlete first, when many other companies just say they do. Argon has supported me so well since I joined the family, and fully embraced my video, my passion, and didn't try to push me or pressure me in any one direction. I came into the company through my ex, Magali Tisseyre, who was French Canadian and had ridden for them for years. I also believe they make the best, most underrated bikes in the industry right now. I never have problems with them, and they're the lightest, and best riding TT bikes you'll find, hands down. Don't even get me started on the Dark Matter Gravel bike. In a league of it's own.
Do you think an Ironman distance should be added to the Olympics?
No. The Olympic, ITU format was created to do away with all the problems that plague professional ironman racing. IE drafting, limited field size, awful to spectate.
Are you going to join us for our Moto ride from Argentina to Alaska and if so - what’s your bike of choice?
If it's in 3 years when I retire from pro racing! Right now I have a 1998 Suzuki DR350 that needs work.. I'm not sure that'd make it, so I'd probably go after a Triumph Tiger, in this dream scenario.