In July 2023, Levente (Levi) Lukacs attempted to set the world record for the longest single-event triathlon. The target distance was 252 miles, split up into 7.6 miles swimming, 197 miles cycling, and 47 miles running. Lukacs completed the event in just over 25 hours, with only up to 5 minutes of rest taken at a time. He is currently awaiting approval from Guinness World Records to make it official. During his attempt he also raised money for Pedal the Cause, a nonprofit organization that funds cancer research in the St. Louis, Missouri, area.
From five to three
Lukacs is originally from Hungary, where he competed internationally in pentathlon for several years. The demands of the sport eventually left Lukacs feeling burnt out, leading him to take a hiatus from athletics to focus on his education and career. In 2016 he tried triathlon after being invited to take part in the run leg of a relay. He immediately fell in love with the fun, supportive community—the complete opposite of the intense, competitive atmosphere he had seen in pentathlon.
“We always just wanted to win,” Lukacs says. “And then I went out to this Ironman…and everyone was just so happy…it was people out there doing like, seven-, eight-hour half Ironman, but they’re smiling and everyone was cheering them and it was just such a great—like I’ve never seen anything [like it] in my life before that.”
Lukacs began competing seriously in triathlon, eventually moving out to the United States, and he became a professional triathlete in 2023. His coach is still in Hungary, and Lukacs credits him with being a huge support mentally, especially in the lead-up to his world record attempt.
World record day
The original attempt was set to be 240 miles—14 more than the previous record holder, Steven Davis—when his team discovered that another athlete had already broken 240 miles just a few weeks prior. With only days to plan a new route and adjust the distance, Lukacs set the new goal to 252 miles instead, but the difficulty in figuring out the new logistics in such a short time nearly caused his team to abandon the whole endeavor. After several late nights reconfiguring the route, Lukacs was able to start his attempt on the original set date.
In the beginning, Lukacs found one of the hardest aspects was taking things slow: “It was really weird to try to just slow down for this because, you know, this was about the distance. Doesn’t matter how long it takes, I just have to finish the distance.”
Though the bike portion was mentally challenging for Lukacs, the run was the most physically challenging. Lack of sleep and exertion from the swim and bike legs meant the fatigue had already set in by the time the run portion began. “That’s when it was just really challenging,” Lukacs explains. “‘Oh, why am I doing this?’ ‘Why am I here?’ And I just had great support.”
At one point, the police were called on Lukacs and his support team for making laps through a neighborhood in the early hours of the morning. With only two laps left, they convinced the officer to let them complete the event.
Lukacs counts that support team as an integral part of finishing the race. He had pacers for every leg of the triathlon, amounting to 40-50 people in all who helped him. Friends and family members were a huge boost, able to keep him company and provide nutrition along the way. Lukacs’ mother was among the supporters there that day. She is a breast cancer survivor and the reason for Lukacs wanting to raise cancer awareness.
Turning the pain into positivity
Over $2,600 was raised for Pedal the Cause, with 100% of the funds going to cancer research. Lukacs considered it his way of giving back to his community in St. Louis. “It was a really, really great community and I really got hooked just on that—that I want to be part of this, and I want to surround myself with people like this.” Pedal the Cause also raises funds through their annual cycling event.
Lukacs states at the end of the day, he wants to be an inspiration to others. “Specifically for people dealing with cancer,” he says. “Your body has so much more to give, even when you think you’re at your absolute limit. So I just hope this is a good, inspiring story for everyone to just keep going and push through.”