A few weeks ago I launched a new project called The Record Breaking Podcast (link to the podcast on iTunes). In each episode, I interview someone who has set or broken a significant record. Often these are world, first-ever, all-time records, though I do sometimes veer into records that may not be of that caliber yet are personally meaningful. I’ve interviewed four people so far and already I’m learning all kinds of interesting things
Most people have a base of experience before they really get into their record.
Before Will Carlough broke the Ice Climber high score on Twin Galaxies, he had spent years of playing the NES game as a kid. So when he started up again in 2007, he had retained a lot of his muscle memory. Similarly, before Mari Asp got into powerlifting and set 3 different bench press world records, she was a junior national gymnast in Norway, giving her a great athletic background for her later accomplishments.
The key to breaking records is often identifying the small but crucial detail
For John Bickerton, it was safety. As the chief engineer for Reading Bus, John and his team’s goal to set the land speed record for a public service bus required not just bold engineering, but but a smart, conservative approach. In order to get sponsorship and expert advice from his tire and engine vendors, he had to convince them that what they were doing was safe and wouldn’t result in a PR nightmare. But once they settled that, both vendors helped unlock speed gains that they used to hit over 76MPH on a track.
Part of why Mari was able to lift such heavy loads, far more than anyone in her division, is due to her pressing the bar a shorter distance. Because of her background as a gymnast, she was far more flexible than a typical lifter, and she could angle her hips so that her chest really stuck out, meaning she did not have to lower the bar as far before it touched her chest. This advantage, plus her unorthodox training, contributed a lot to her ability to shatter records that still stand today.
If you’re going for a record, you often beat it by a lot.
Bjorn Nyland was a Tesla enthusiast who decided to challenge the Tesla Model S hypermiling record set by an American father-and-son duo in late 2012. He chose a really flat stretch of road in Denmark and under ideal weather conditions and drove 452 miles in 18 hours on a single charge, beating the previous hypermiling record not by a mile or two, but by 24 miles.
Will’s Ice Climber efforts beat the previous record holder by 700k points (1.2M vs 440k), and then broke his own record again by another 700k points. It might be that with records, once you actually focus on them and really make progress, you can usually find some major leaps in efficiency or power that allow you to leap frog the previous record by a significant margin.