Despite besting the Guinness World Record for longest single-day triathlon last summer, Levente Lukacs isn’t interested in glorifying his personal achievement. Quite the opposite, he wants people to know how close he came to not finishing the 252-mile attempt.
“The last 15 miles were just pain,” said Lukacs, a Hungarian-born professional triathlete now living in St. Louis. “That’s when I started to get dehydrated. My body couldn’t consume anything anymore. I was running for four minutes and then walking for one, which worked pretty well, until I started passing out with five loops to go.
“The first time I passed out, I said, ‘OK, that’s probably it.’ So, I got up and started walking again. Four minutes later, I passed out again,” the 28-year-old continued. “Then, it happened four more times. My body was at its limit, but I wanted to keep going because Pedal is doing something great and I’m so happy to be part of it.”
“Pedal” is Pedal the Cause, the 14-year-old charity cycling event that has donated upwards of $40 million to cancer research at Siteman Cancer Center and Siteman Kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital since 2010.
When Lukacs was considering his world-record attempt, he wanted to pair it with an altruistic purpose. Pedal the Cause touched him through its connection to cycling and, even more so, because his mother is a cancer survivor. “I wanted to honor her with this challenge,” Lukacs said. “Everyone that goes through cancer, it isn’t always the case that they survive.”
Lukacs learned about Pedal the Cause through the Swim Bike Run multisport store, which connected him to cancer survivor and activist Teri Greige. “It all came together from there,” Lukacs said.
Well known among the local triathlon community, Greige is the chairwoman of Powered By Hope, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to providing strength, peace, and education to cancer patients. Greige and Team Powered By Hope are also leading Pedal the Cause fundraisers.
“He said to me, ‘I want to share my experience because I want to show people that their body is capable of so much more than they think. You truly can do things you think are impossible,’” said Greige. “He just immediately became part of the Pedal community.”
Lukacs ended up raising more than $2,500 for cancer research through sponsorships of his triathlon and through cycling the 100-mile distance at Pedal the Cause in September.
“I can’t say enough nice words about Levi [Lukacs],” Greige said. “He gives me hope for the future, because he really is committed. He’s already talking about how he can raise more money next year.”
‘A Really Long Day’
Greige was among 35 friends, family members (including his mother), and pacers on hand to support Lukacs throughout the day of his world-record attempt on July 15.
Unfortunately, things did not start out on the right foot. The reigning Guinness World Record for longest single-day triathlon was listed as 226 miles, set in the United Kingdom in 2022, and Lukacs had based his training and timetable on finishing 240 miles.
However, on July 11, Lukacs received word that another person had just completed a single-day triathlon of 241 miles — one more mile than he would attempt. “We had to change all the courses. It took us three months to plan, then we had four days to redo everything,” Lukacs said. “I had a mental breakdown. I got really mad and decided I wanted to beat it by 10 miles.”
Lukacs would swim 7.6 miles, bike 197 miles, and run 47.2 miles for a total of 251.8 miles. But distance was not the only hurdle to overcome; the rules stipulate that the entire attempt had to be captured on video, and he could not stop longer than five minutes at a time to rest, eat, or drink during the 24 hours.
“That was the really hard thing,” Lukacs said. “It was nonstop, and if anything went wrong, you had five minutes to fix it, whether that was going to the bathroom or the video camera’s battery running out.”
Lukacs started with the swim portion of his attempt at 5:50 a.m. on Saturday, July 15, at Lake St. Louis. He swam 12 loops of the 0.63-mile course, stopping for a five-minute rest after the first six laps.
“It took about three hours and 10 minutes, so we were 15 to 20 minutes ahead of schedule,” Lukacs said. “The swim was the easiest and shortest part. My rhythm was good, and I got through it with little problem.”
Next came the bike segment. Lukacs had five minutes for transition, but when he hopped on his tri bike, he discovered it had a flat tire. Luckily, he had a spare road bike on hand, and while it wasn’t his preference, he used it to pedal the 25 miles from Lake St. Louis to the Monarch Chesterfield Levee Trail. Here, he got his tri bike back and completed most of the remaining distance by riding a 7-mile loop 23 times.
“That was probably the most challenging part of the day. There was no shade, no hiding from the sun and wind, and lots of hills,” Lukacs said. “But I had good support. I could have people in front of me and could draft.
“Every two or three loops, we would stop for five minutes for food and water. Lots of pizza and pasta,” he said.
Lukacs biked to Swim Bike Run in Chesterfield, where he was met by a group of sponsors and supporters who were invited to join him as he kicked off his run segment.
“It was really great to get off the bike after nine and a half hours,” he said. “And everyone was giving me positive vibes.”
Lukacs was scheduled to run 16 repetitions of the 3-mile route, which looped through neighborhoods around the Swim Bike Run store. He ran the first 22 miles, then began alternating between running and walking. Around mile 32, at 3 a.m. on Sunday, is when he first passed out, falling into the grass on the side of the road.
“I have memories, but I also have blank spots,” he said. “I only had five minutes to get up when I passed out, and I remember people yelling out the time.
“Everyone was pushing me through this, and it was incredible,” Lukacs added. “When I think back, it looks from the outside like it was really hard, but from the inside there was no option but to get up and move again.”
Splashing his face with water, Lukacs started power walking — “left, right, left, right” — and ran the last half-mile. “My knees were so swollen. It hurt so bad,” he said. “But we ran that last half-mile, and then I collapsed into the parking lot. There was champagne and celebrating, but my first thought was, ‘I want my bed.’”
As of press time, Guinness World Records was still reviewing the evidence of Lukacs’ triathlon attempt. “It’s a really long process,” he said. “But everything looks good. They just have lots of applications, and it takes forever.”
Even several weeks later, Lukacs said he was still reviewing the experience himself. “It was just a really long day. I’m suffering still,” he said. “Physically, I wasn’t going fast. I was going long, with a really low heart rate. My joints hurt a lot, and I didn’t want to sit on a bike for a while. I’m still mentally exhausted from the focus and effort going into it.
“I went to some pretty dark places at 3 a.m. on the run. If I had done it alone, I would have probably quit. I couldn’t have done it without the community,” Lukacs said. “My passing out and getting up, maybe it gives people who are struggling some strength and inspiration. If I can do it, maybe they can do it too. Surround yourself with good people and push through.”
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.