What's it take to set a world record?

Have you ever wondered what it takes to set a world record? Larry Olmsted is an expert. As a journalist and author of the book "Getting into Guinness: One Man's Longest, Fastest, Highest Journey Inside the World's Most Famous Record Book", he chronicles his own accomplishments (two world records) while digging into the history of record setting mania. We talked with Olmsted about his experience, and what it takes to set a Guinness World Record.

Q: Why do you think people are so fascinated with having a record?

A: I think it's the same thing that drives reality television. A lot of it has nothing to do with furthering knowledge or making a point, it's more to hear yourself talk. It makes you feel self-important. But to have a record, at the end of the day, it's a piece of paper and long fingernails.

Q: What are your records?

A: My first record was because I was doing a story for Golf Magazine, so that was for the greatest distance traveled between two rounds of golf that were played in the same day. I went from Sydney to Los Angeles. That was in February of 2004. The second one was for playing poker for 72 hours straight.

Q: Do they still stand?

A: The golf one got broken in 2005 and the poker record just got broken about a year ago by a pro poker player named Phil Laak.

Q: What were some of your favorite records that you discovered in your research?

A: There was a college student who showered for 97 hours — I mean, I played poker for 72 hours and that was hard, so showering for another whole day would be tough. There's a guy who read the complete works of Shakespeare cover-to-cover out loud. It took him five days. My all-time favorite one was banned by the book. A guy named Ashrita Furman re-created Paul Revere's ride by doing forward somersaults instead of riding a horse. He rolled for 12.2 miles on this route. I wouldn't do that the length of my driveway.

(The book didn't allow the record because Furman stopped to vomit during the attempt, which prevented it from being "consecutive.")

Q: So walk me through the process. How does someone go about setting a record?

A: You can only apply online. You go to the Guinness website and apply there. You file a request — whether you want to break an existing record or petition them to set a new one. Several weeks later they send you a form to sign. Then you sign and fax or mail it back. Then you wait another four or so weeks to hear if it's approved. If it is, they send a lot more rules.

(Everyone is given the opportunity to pay the expediting fee, which guarantees you an answer in no more than three days, but that costs more than $500.)

Q: What was the most challenging part about setting your records?

A: The golf one wasn't about being the best golfer. It was just the worry that the timing wouldn't work out, like my luggage getting through and my planes would be on time. But for the poker record, it was physically exhausting. I was hallucinating. After 48 hours I was delirious. I was snapping at people. I wouldn't do that record again.

Q: Do you think the fascination with Guinness will ever go away?

A: The obsession is worldwide — it's truly global. That book is the biggest international best-seller of all time. It's sold more than 100 million copies in 37 languages. I set my first record in 2004 and in the last seven years I've never met a single person who didn't know what (the book) was. There's a huge group of serial Guinness followers who get it every year and look at it and decide what they want to do. People who are not kids think of it as something in the past — but I know people whose kids have that book on the top of their Christmas or Hanukkah list.

Q: Any more record attempts in your future?

A: I'm doing a ski record next year. I can't give you the details, though — because if it gets out, someone else will do it, which is the nature of the beast.


Twitter: @jenweigel

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • 'Great team effort' by joggers saves man in Lake Michigan

    'Great team effort' by joggers saves man in Lake Michigan

    During an early morning jog along Lake Michigan with his wife and children Tuesday, John Corba spotted a man struggling in the water nearly 30 yards from the shore.

  • Grateful Dead drummer dishes dirt, drug dependency in new book

    Grateful Dead drummer dishes dirt, drug dependency in new book

    As a founding member of the Grateful Dead, Bill Kreutzmann watched the world change from behind his drum kit, shoveling coal in the wildly tribal rhythm section as the Dead went from San Francisco underground curio to ground-breaking indie outfit, then progenitor of the improvisation-based rock...

  • Book comes out ahead of Grateful Dead farewell concerts in Chicago this weekend

    Book comes out ahead of Grateful Dead farewell concerts in Chicago this weekend

    The cliché that colors every good rock star story is “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll." For the Grateful Dead, the trailblazing rock band known for its improvisational style, revelatory live shows and dedicated fanbase, there was that and so much more.

  • 10 best movies of 2015 so far

    10 best movies of 2015 so far

    The year’s half over! How did that happen? No idea. With six months of a good year of movies in the books, let’s see how the Top 10 list is looking, with a quote from each respective review. Note: There are a few I’ve seen that I really like that haven’t yet opened in Chicago, and those aren’t...

  • If you make less than $50,440, proposal could increase overtime pay

    If you make less than $50,440, proposal could increase overtime pay

    Nearly 5 million more Americans would qualify for overtime pay under new rules proposed Tuesday by the Obama administration, a long-anticipated move expected to affect a broad swath of salaried employees from store managers to social workers to restaurant shift supervisors.

  • Chicago's minimum wage increase attracting workers to city

    Chicago's minimum wage increase attracting workers to city

    Unlike previous summers, UniStaff is experiencing a spike in job applicants at its Little Village location, a trend the branch manager says is tied to the city's minimum wage increase to $10 per hour beginning Wednesday.