This Movie About a 1,200-Mile Triathlon Will Make You Cringe

Luke Tyburski on course. Photo provided by Jay Cox.

Luke Tyburski is a former Australian soccer player whose athletic career was marred by near-constant injury. During his last three years in the sport, he experienced a laundry list of afflictions including two foot surgeries, a reconstructed collarbone, a groin injury, a serious back injury and a calf tear. So what does the injury-prone lad from the Australian bush do? Well, take up ultrarunning, of course.

Despite claiming to have never run more than six miles in his life, Tyburski enters himself into the famously-brutal and famously-over-six-mile event, the Marathon des Sables. The six stage, self-supported running race tackles over 120 miles across the Sahara desert. Though Tyberski finished (minus all of the skin on his infected toes), it turned out that this feat couldn’t fully fill the void in his life. So he decided to do more.

“More” looked like a lot of things: running down Mt. Everest; running through a Chinese forest without money, food or water; and competing in the Double Brutal Extreme Triathlon. All of these may seem ridiculous enough, but it seems that Tyburski is only happy when he’s topping himself—so he created an “event” that somehow made the aforementioned list look like a sprint tri series.

In 2015, Tyburski set out to complete the “Ultimate Triathlon.” The event would take place over the course of 12 days and would cover over 1,200 miles. The plan was to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar (roughly nine miles), cycle along the coast of Spain and France (over 800 miles) then run through France into Monaco (over 350 miles). To put it into perspective, he needed to average 200 miles per day on the bike and run a double marathon each day, for a week straight.

The documentary was created by Jay Cox of Fizzeek Media.

If the stats sound insane and unreasonable, The Ultimate Triathlon movie only proves it. We see Tyburski basically throttle himself over the course of 12 days—for only a short period near the beginning of the film does he resemble anything remotely human or living.

Over the course of 94 minutes, we watch Tyburski slowly disintegrate. While he tries to keep things light and fun by donning a rainbow-colored beanie with a propeller, it’s still pretty tough to watch. Despite training for up to 50 hours per week to prepare, a lot goes wrong for Tyburski during his odyssey: last-minute course changes, untimely family news, cold temperatures, hamstring issues, quad issues and sleep deprivation, just to name a (very) few.

Throughout the film, Tyburski’s chipper antics go from entertaining to slightly alarming to nearly tragic. While the tone of his banter devolves from peppy to slurring as the miles crank by, the strangest part of the whole adventure is that he runs himself (literally) into the ground so often and continues to keep going. “Every day he dies, and every day he is reborn,” says one of his crewmembers without even a hint of melodrama.

There are moments that are particularly hard to watch—basically any time near the end of the trip when Tyburski is trying to get on or off his bike. Or when you hear his near-constant yelps of pain during the last 30 minutes of film. Anyone who has done endurance sports can recognize that certain point with injuries where the damage is almost irreversible. And yet Tyburski goes on.

Part of me says that this is a film about how far we can push the human body. However, Tyburski goes so far beyond that line, it’s tough to even see those limits through the fog of suffering. When a human being becomes too difficult to distinguish from an actual zombie, it almost becomes an experiment in masochism.

While we don’t hear this explicitly stated during the movie, Tyburski has revealed in subsequent interviews that he uses his athletic feats as a way to supplement his treatment for depression. Knowing this going into the experience certainly paints a better picture of the “why” that seems to get danced around a little bit during the film. Aside from his own personal dreams and goals, the purpose of this feat can be a little unclear—Tyburski’s not doing this for charity or to bring awareness to any specific ailment.

Without spoiling anything, there are a few twists in this film, but for the most part it’s sort of about a man taking himself to the brink over the course of 1,200 miles. Fans of extreme endurance suffering will likely find solace in the Ultimate Triathlon, but anyone trying to motivate their children into trying sports may want to stick to Chariots of Fire.

Stream the movie at Vimeo.com and watch a trailer below. 

More triathlon-related movie reviews:
– Review: Flatline to Finish Line
– The Most Awesomely Terrible Triathlon Movie on Netflix