My earliest memory of Guinness World Records is from a book I checked out of the elementary school library. I remember reading through the entire thing, entranced by the idea that you could be the best in the world at something. My family visited a Guinness museum on vacation, and I watched the three-year run of the television show.
Several years ago, I was almost part of a mass participation attempt that fell apart when several of the key people ended up having to move out of town at the last minute (as you’ll see below, mass participation records are difficult to organize.) I didn’t really think of it again until after I completed my first marathon. Someone pointed out that there was a Guinness World Record for heaviest person to complete a marathon — which was held by a man. I contacted Guinness to see if it was possible to divide the category into male and female. (They do not, as yet, have a category for transgender/non-binary, but I would absolutely support anyone who wanted to ask for one.) They agreed to do so, but told me that I couldn’t get the record retroactively: I had to apply in advance.
And that’s the story of how I came to be a two-time marathoner and set the Guinness World Record for Heaviest Woman to Complete a Marathon.
I learned a lot about completing marathons and a lot about setting Guinness Records. Since setting the record, a number of people have asked me for help. It’s a tricky, detail-oriented process. Missing details can mean failing to get the record, even if you succeed at the attempt. This guide is designed to help you make sure you get all those details covered.
Why do it?
Why would someone want to set an official Guinness World Record? Certainly, getting the validation of being the best in the world at something is a good enough reason for many. But it turns out that bragging rights aren’t the only reason. Although you don’t win any money by setting records, plenty of people and companies use the record for marketing and publicity. It’s a great way to impress clients and customers that you are the best at what you do.
Guinness World Records (I’ll just use “Guinness” throughout the rest of this article for short) isn’t the only game in town—there are a surprising number of organizations that maintain records. But the annual book — published by Guinness for over 60 years now—holds its own record as the best-selling copyrighted book in history. That kind of name recognition helps if you are setting a record for publicity.
Not every record-holder makes it into the book, though. Factors like when you set your record and the quality of the pictures that you get play a role. So, some people are featured in the book with pictures, some are listed in the book, and everyone is listed online. One of the things that determine whether or not you get in the published book is the quality and interest of the pictures that you submit with your record evidence.
There are two basic types of records. The first is an individual record, like being the person who made the most sausages in one minute. That’s the type of record I set.
There are also mass participation records, like largest gathering of people dressed as Smurfs, or most people making giant bubbles. That’s one of the records accomplished by Paola Dyboski-Bryant, owner of Dr Zigs Extraordinary Bubbles. Paola is the mastermind behind the first World Bubble Festival in September, 2018, that included an entire day devoted to people setting individual records and two mass participation records around bubble-making. Paola was kind enough to share her experiences and expertise with mass participation record-setting with me for this article.
Paola and co-organiser Caroline Ainsle, from Bubbly Maths, worked closely with Guinness for a day of record-making as part of the bubble festival, held in conjunction with an international conference of bubble makers, “Bubble DAZE.” The record-setting events spanned two locations: a theater and and ancient castle in Caernarfon, North Wales. Paola’s rationale for setting records was to create the kind of excitement that could involve both the community of bubblers as well as the surrounding community of Caernarfon. As she told me, “The thought of doing a world record for me was just always about, ‘How about we do it with the most people? How about we get more people involved and share the fun?’”
Applying for Your Record
With Guinness, record-making goes hand in hand with strict adherence to the rules. Their rules are extremely specific, and they take them very seriously — after all, that’s the only way they can keep their reputation. They may require written witness statements, stewards, video of the entire attempt, signed statements from the event organizers, and more.
Knowing how to apply for your record and work with Guinness ensures that your attempt gets their stamp of approval and makes it into their records.
Guinness requires that you submit an application to set or break a record in advance, and that application must then be approved. It’s not a complicated process, but it can take a while, so begin as soon as you can.
Most record breakers need to prepare at least 12 weeks in advance, and it can take 12 weeks or more after the attempt for Guinness to officially verify it.
It’s possible pay for expedited services (more on that below), but in general the earlier you start, the better.
Choose your record
Want to set a record, but not sure what to try? Jason Shen, in his article What You Can Learn From People Who Have Broken World Records, notes that you should build on something you’re already good at:
If you want to be the best, it helps to start in an area that you already have some grounding and can build from. Many of the record-breakers that I interviewed relied on this strategy.
Will Carlough holds the world record for highest score for the NES video game Ice Climbers, at 1,975,670 points.
Will did not just pick up the game one day, work at it for a few months, and set the record. As a child, he had spent years of his childhood with only a handful of video games, including Ice Climbers, giving him lots of practice with the game’s mechanics.
My personal story: setting the world record for Aztec push-ups was not something I attempted out of the blue. The movement requires far more flexibility and coordination than many other fitness records. But as a former NCAA national champion gymnast, I had already invested well over 10,000 hours of training in explosive, coordinated movements, with routines that typically took between 45 and 90 seconds to complete. So when I found out — almost by accident — that there was a record for most number of Aztec Push-Ups in one minute (31), I was able to quickly top the figure (the record I set is now 50).
You could say I had been training for Aztec push-ups my whole life.
The Records Showcase highlights some of the range of records Guinness will certify. It’s important to note that there are some types of records they won’t consider. You should definitely read their list of common reasons for record rejections, which includes a list of the kinds of records that aren’t eligible for certification.
There are two types of record attempts — breaking an existing record, or setting a brand new record. The first part of the application process involves a search to find out if the record you want to break already exists. If it does, you can apply and then they send you your guidelines. It doesn’t cost anything to break an existing record, unless you want to pay for additional services from Guinness.
If the record you want set doesn’t exist yet, you’ll have to apply to set a new record. This can significantly extend your wait time so, again, start early. You’ll pay at least $5 for getting approval on a new record and setting it.
Choose Your Level of Service from Guinness
Guinness offers three basic options for setting a record.
Account Managed Services
Also listed as “Invite an adjudicator” on the Guinness site, this is the fastest and most expensive option. You get a dedicated concierge to guide you through the process, and an Official Adjudicator (judge) at your event (which, as you’ll see below, saves you a ton of work.) Your application, evidence, and questions will receive immediate review and response. You get a certificate presentation at your attempt, and licensing of the Guinness logo. The cost varies (they only provide a price upon request), but it is thousands of dollars.
This option is mostly used by businesses and organizations that are using the Guinness Record attempt to generate awareness and publicity.
Priority Services — Application Review and Evidence Review
Priority services are options for completing your application and submitting your materials yourself—you don’t get the dedicated concierge. One is to help you with the application process before you attempt the record; the other is to help you with the review process after your attempt.
The first is an expedited application review, which gets your application reviewed (and hopefully approved) in just five business days rather than 12 weeks. It currently runs $800 USD for breaking an existing record (more if you are setting a new record).
After your attempt, you can also purchase expedited evidence review for about $650 USD. This gets your record attempt reviewed within five business days, rather than waiting for 12 weeks.
With both priority services, you also receive priority support, so you get any questions answered in two working days.
This option is generally used by groups, or by people who need to complete their record by a specific deadline.
This is the cheap one. New records cost $5 USD, but otherwise there is no charge for this option. It just takes extra time. After your application is accepted, it typically takes at least 12 weeks to get your specific guidelines for setting the record.
Then, after your attempt, you submit your evidence and it takes at least another 12 weeks to find out if your record is certified. If you have questions during the process, it typically takes two weeks to get them answered.
This is the option that I used. In truth, if I had extra money I would have gone with the priority service, at least for the evidence review. It took fifteen weeks to get my record certified (when I submitted my evidence they let me know what the wait time was, and gave me the option to pay to expedite, which I declined.) It was fifteen weeks of stressing out about whether or not my efforts had been enough, and as a speaker and activist, it reduced the publicity impact of setting the record.
Because of the extraordinary nature of Paola’s event, Guinness offered to provide on-site adjudicators and photography for free. Her records were certified immediately by people whose job is literally to travel to sites where records are being attempted and certify that the rules were followed, and the records achieved. Remember: Guinness is basically in business to sell their record books and generate enthusiasm for record-setting. A spectacular setting, dramatic photos, and a good story can all make your record more appealing for them to feature.
An important thing to keep in mind about your application is that when it is approved, Guinness will send you important details about what you have to do to claim the record, as well as information about the documentation they will require to certify it.
You need those details to plan your attempt.
Planning Your Attempt
Congratulations on getting your application approved. Now the real fun — and the extremely detail-oriented record keeping — begin!
The rules — DO sweat the small stuff
Complicating things a bit, there are two different places to find the rules you’ll need to follow. The first will be your Specific Guidelines — you’re going to want to read this at least two or three times. Consider having a friend read it for anything that you missed, and create a checklist. The Specific Guidelines are what Guinness requires you to do for this particular record. You may find some surprises here.
You’ll also want to access and download the Guide to Evidence. Reading and understanding this document is essential. I almost ruined my attempt because I didn’t read it carefully enough.
Plan for witnesses and other crew carefully
My Specific Guidelines stated that I had to have two witnesses present at all times; they weren’t allowed to be related to me or to each other, and they couldn’t be getting any benefit from my attempt. No problem, I had two friends who were willing to be there as long as it took. Luckily, I did a final read-through of the Guide to Evidence right before my attempt and realized that witnesses also may not work for more than 4 hours. I’m a glacially slow runner, and I couldn’t finish in four hours with a rocket strapped to me, so this was basically a disaster. Luckily, my partner Julianne is a miracle worker and she got enough independent witnesses to verify the attempt at the last minute. Details are not my forte so, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to read both of these documents early and often.
Paola experienced a rule issue of another kind. She told me, “I think with two days to go, we got an email saying ‘the guidelines have changed, please make sure you check on the website to double check your guidelines’. I was really busy with everything, and late that evening, I got to get onto the website. Originally, they needed one steward for every 50 participants, and I had my stewards in place. And then I read the guidelines had changed to one steward for every 10 participants—and I’ve got 400 participants!” She managed to pull it off, though, and found more stewards—five times the original amount specified!
You might need a lot of crew for a mass record-breaking attempt. Paola’s team had to record everyone’s name, make sure kids were accompanied by an adult, and hand kits out using a wristband system. Participants had to be split into teams of 10 and assigned a steward, and the stewards reported back to the adjudicator how many bubblers had been bubbling for the full 2 minutes required. They reached a total of 318 for the record-breaking number.
Make sure that you have any equipment that you need. My record involved my weight, so we knew we would need a scale, but the Guinness rules stated that “this record is measured in kilograms to the nearest 0.001kg.” That meant we had to have a scale that measured in grams (or roughly the weight of a single paperclip), which was not easy to find.
It also said “the local variation in acceleration due to gravity must be used when making the measurement.” For this, we had to involve a physics professor, and part of the evidence I submitted was a mathematics equation that I couldn’t even begin to understand.
Paola had to make sure that she had enough of her specialized bubble wands (tri-strings and garlands), as well as enough mix so that the stewards could keep refilling the bubble-maker’s buckets.
If you are organizing the attempt specifically to set this record, you cannot plan too carefully. If there is anything that you think is impossible (for example, there is no way for you to have a video camera on you for your entire Kilimanjaro climb), e-mail your Records Manager using the “Correspondence” section on your Guinness page, and they can help.
Organizing your crew
When it’s “go” time, you’re going to want to be able to focus all of your energy on your attempt. In order for that to happen, it’s important to have a solid crew. The more people who are involved in the attempt, the more important a good crew becomes.
I was lucky to have Julianne as my Crew Captain. As I kept warm by running in the freezing cold, she sat in the back of our rental van and charged GoPro batteries, called witnesses who hadn’t arrived yet, got new witnesses to replace them, gave instructions, collected witness statements, kept the mandatory marathon log, manned the stationary video camera, took pictures, and even somehow found time to hold up motivational posters that she had made for me as a surprise as I finished each lap.
My crew was rounded out by my weigh-in team, Theresa the Certified Personal Trainer and Elizabeth the Registered Nurse (Guinness required that my weigh-in be supervised by at least one certified health professional, and I wasn’t taking any chances.)
I really can’t say it enough: read and understand your Specific Guidelines and Guide to Evidence, and have every willing crew member read it as well. If you have witnesses who are just coming in just for the attempt, make sure that they clearly understand what is required of them. Improperly completed witness statements can ruin your attempt.
Paola had a crew of her own. Her friend Caroline co-organized the event, and another friend Sam volunteered on that day to manage the individual records stage while Paola was at the castle organizing 318 bubble-makers, as well as stewards, timekeepers, and witnesses.
The day before
The big day is almost here! Go in organized. The bags I packed for my attempt looked like I was heading on an expedition and making a movie about it:
Lay out everything the night before, read the Guidelines one last time, and have a final check in with your crew about what’s going to happen tomorrow.
You and I both know that you’re already officially amazing. Now, because you are well-prepared, you get to prove it to the world!
Documenting on the Big Day
During the attempt, get pictures and video of literally everything (despite the fact that my weigh-in had to be conducted by a certified health professional and witnessed by two unrelated people, all of whom had to fill out official statements, I was still required to have photographic evidence of it as well.)
When your attempt is finished, check through the paperwork very carefully. If you are going to be exhausted, you should plan for a trusted crew member to do this for you.
- Do you have all the witness statements?
- Did you get any signatures that you need? My witnesses had to fill out their forms by hand, and then we scanned them in. For some records, forms can be filled out electronically.
- Do you have the pictures and video that you need?
If so, you’re ready for the final steps of getting all your evidence to Guinness.
It’s time to bring this baby home. Log into your account on the Guinness website, scroll to the section that says “Evidence,” and click on “Upload Evidence.”
You’ll enter all of your information. You cannot submit video evidence through a file sharing site, so you’ll need to upload all of your video evidence directly to their site. I tried that, but it just kept timing out, even after I broke up the video into smaller bits. I contacted my Records Manager and they gave me another option of mailing in a thumb drive, which is what I did.
You can also choose to pay for expedited review services when you submit your evidence, as noted above.
Remember, submit the best photographs you can to increase your chances of getting them into the book.
Now, the wait begins. If Guinness staff have any questions, they’ll contact you. Otherwise, you’ll get your answer somewhere between five business days and 12+ weeks—depending on the record review option you chose.
Keep checking your page and, at some point, “Pending evidence” will be updated to “The current record is…” (You should also get a notification email.)
Congratulations, you are a Guinness World Record Holder and Officially Amazing! You can order your complimentary certificate by logging into your account and then going to the Guinness World Record Store. Your free certificate should already be in your basket. If not, contact Guinness. You can order more than one certificate for £20.00 or about $26 USD each, plus shipping (at the time of this writing).
If you are a participant in a mass participation record, you won’t automatically get your own certificate. But you can purchase a “Certificate of Participation” by doing a look-up on the event and then entering your name to have it custom printed (this also costs £20.00 or about $26 USD, at the time of this writing.)
So that’s it. Unless, of course, you want to try for another record!