Uberman Keeps on Running—and Swimming and Biking

Uberman triathlon participants James “The Iron Cowboy” Lawrence and Catherine Breed, who will each compete in the contest this fall as part of a three-person team

An Uberman will bicycle through Malibu this year.  

Despite the novel coronavirus’ spread across the U.S., the daunting endurance competition, which stretches from ocean to the desert, will begin on Oct. 10. Malibu real estate developer Dan Bercu, the 556-mile ultra-triathlon’s creator, said the race’s fate in 2020 was never in doubt, even though many elite long-distance races have been canceled because of the world’s health epidemic. 

“The only way it wouldn’t go on is if Death Valley—the running end of it—if they closed the national park because that is a big part of the course,” he said. “That is the only thing that could stop it.”

Bercu said the small number of participants in Uberman helps put concerns about potential spread of the coronavirus among racers at bay. 

“There are hundreds of miles between competitors,” he described. 

Uberman encompasses a 21-mile ocean swim from Catalina Island to Palos Verdes, followed by a 400-mile bike ride that passes through Malibu, out of the Los Angeles area and up 20,000 vertical feet before dropping to Death Valley’s Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. 

Out of breath yet? 

The finale is a 135-mile run through the northern Mojave Desert to Whitney Portal, the trailhead of Mount Whitney at 13,000 feet. 

The race takes participants multiple days to finish. The winner is named the Uberman. 

The five-year-old event is free to enter. It has no sponsors, no monetary prize, isn’t recognized by any governing body and competitors must provide their own equipment to help them complete the swim, bike ride and run. An “Outside Magazine” headline in 2017 tapped Bercu’s experience as “The World’s Hardest Endurance Race.” 

Bercu created the spectacle for people looking to challenge themselves. He takes pride in saying, “Twice as many people have walked on the moon—12—as have completed Uberman solo—six.” 

So far, four people have signed for this year’s competition including James “the Iron Cowboy” Lawrence, a recording-setting triathlete known for conquering 50 full-length triathlons in 50 states in 50 days straight, and record-setting open water swimmer Catherine Breed, a former collegiate All-American and Team USA member. Lawrence and Breed are part of a trio that will each complete a different portion of Uberman. The fourth participant is aiming to conquer the challenge solo. 

The 2019 Uberman featured two record-setting performances. Ultramarathoner Adam Scully set the men’s record by finishing the competition in 125 hours and 45 minutes. He finished the swim in 13:45, the bike ride in 49:59 and the run in 56:38. He was also the first American to complete Uberman. Ultra-endurance athlete Melissa Urie of Australia was the first women to complete the course. Her finishing time was 135:55.00. She did the swim in 11:54, the bike ride in 51:21, and the run in 64:34. 

The third finisher, Jonathan Puchalski, also an ultra-endurance athlete, completed Uberman in 191:42:00.

Bercu said that as times goes on, more qualified athletes are registering for the event. 

“Each year, the participants have gotten better in terms of their abilities,” he said. “Iron Cowboy is probably the greatest—if not one of the greatest—ultra-triathletes of all time.” 

Bercu is happy that last year’s finishers turned in record performances but noted one drawback. 

“I feel like the faster you go and the more your head is down, it takes away from the journey aspect of the race,” he said. “If all you are doing is racing for speed, you are not getting the full adventure and wilderness experience. It’s a double-edged sword.” 

Bercu said competitions like Uberman could be the future of endurance events, because people might be hesitant to enroll in races that draw hundreds or thousands of participants. 

“Targeted adventures are going to be the future of travel and sports,” he predicted.