This article is part of our On The Record series focusing on amazing musicians that have set a Guinness World Record. We discuss their record attempt, musical careers and current events.
While some records can be broken in 30 seconds or less, others take just a bit more time. Steve Gaul, a drummer from Ontario, Canada, has gone above and beyond to set a Guinness World Record for Longest Marathon Drumming By An Individual at a staggering 134 hours, or over 5 ½ days ending on August 19, 2015! He knew it would be a challenge like no other, but he had a secret weapon to push him to the limit.
Gaul’s daughter, Jersey, was two-years-old at the time of the record attempt and was born with a heart defect. She had undergone three surgeries at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, known as SickKids Hospital. Through a series of meetings with local government officials and hospital executives, Gaul coordinated a fundraising effort to benefit SickKids Hospital, the place that has meant so much to him and his family. As of today, his daughter has spent 73 months on this planet and 21 of them have been at SickKids Hospital. He calls it their second home. “SickKids and the Ronald McDonald House. Jersey has a new valve as of a year ago and has never been better. We count our blessings. The time will come when she outgrows all the things they’ve done to her and they’ll need redoing. For now, we just soak it in.”
Before he set this insane record, he actually tried twice before. The previous record at the time was 120 hours, so that was his benchmark. On his first attempt, he only made it just over 3 days. “We didn’t really plan nutrition and such so at 73 hours I passed out,” says Gaul. “We raised $24,000 though!” The only person disappointed that he didn’t set the record was Gaul himself. His friends and organizers managed to convince him to try once more. Now knowing what to expect and how to properly prepare, he got his team together and the second time was a charm. “I got a biochemist and holistic nutritionist, athletic therapists and we put together a plan. It took 6 months to prepare the body, mind, expo and the show. And yeah, we broke the record and raised $60,000 this time.”
The mental aspect of setting a record like this is pushing the limits of the human body and its ability to cope with pain and loss. There are a few basic issues like using the restroom, which are addressed in the rules of the record. Gaul had to play along to recognizable tunes and was allowed one 5-minute break every hour which he could either take each hour or accumulate them to use as a longer break and there must be no longer than 30 seconds in between songs. Other issues, however, are not so simple, like what happens when your body begins rejecting food and your stomach doesn’t digest it, when your thumb dislocates, or when your ribs separate off the spine (subluxation)…all of which happened to Gaul during his record attempt. “You hallucinate every hour for 14 hours in a row and forget who you are or where you are. Your hands blow up like balloons, all your fingers have blisters so when you’re playing you’re holding the sticks between your index and middle finger,” recalls Gaul. “Your ears feel like they’re going to explode. The first wall (like the proverbial 21-mile wall in a marathon) comes around 30 hours in…then again at 50, 65, 75, 85, 95 hours in with each one getting higher and steeper as your body tries to shut down.”
This is where Gaul’s training kicks in to take him to the next level. “I was trying to fake out my brain, which will stop at nothing to put you to sleep. Then comes the moment. That moment every ultra-marathon runner strives for,” he explains. Gaul was an ultra-marathon runner, which sheds some light on his mindset at this moment. He had ambitions to run across The Great Trail, a nearly 15,000-mile cross-Canada system of greenways, waterways, and roadways that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic oceans, before a knee injury from slipping on a trail and two surgeries put an abrupt end to those plans. He continues, “Beyond the very extremity of fatigue and distress, amounts of ease and power that we never dreamed ourselves to own, sources of strength habitually not taxed at all, because habitually we never push through the obstructions. I found it. The pool of eternal energy. I didn’t find it the first attempt or the second one. But this time, around 124 hours I found it! That last 10 hours I was in the Matrix. I remember playing La Villa Strangiato and it was slow. I could see the notes in front of me like Neo slowing down time to dodge the bullets. Really the hardest part is getting behind that fucking kit and starting.”
After completing his record, Gaul then went to Portugal with the four other guys in the world who have drummed for more than 100 hours to perform a 5-man team drum-a-thon for 100 hours, breaking another then-Guinness World Record and raising $100,000 to boot. This brings the total he’s raised to just over a quarter-million dollars and hundreds of people inspired to be better, to be a part of the solution and not the problem. For all the pain and agony he endured, those are funds well-earned and have gone to make an impact to a cause he holds close to his heart.
Owning this Guinness World Record has earned Gaul many opportunities to play with different people and guest perform on stage with some pretty cool musicians in and around his hometown of Burlington, Ontario. He’s done lots of radio interviews and even a few TV interviews. “I play with the Burlington Top Hat Marching Orchestra and I like it. I get to dance to jazz dixieland music down the street with my drumming and entertain people.” He also likes to play his guitar, trumpet and piano when he’s not busy setting records.
As for what the future holds, Gaul says, “I have had a few ideas. I’d like to set the record for Most Drummers On A Kit Playing Together Simultaneously. I’ve written some notes and done some planning with tech guys on the logistics but that’s all for now.” His ultimate goal is to raise $500,000 in his lifetime. He’s already halfway there, so it seems likely he will hit that goal at his current fundraising pace. For other musicians out there, Gaul says, “Keep your endings tight and you’ll go far. Just do what you love. It takes 10,000 hours of practice to be a pro at something. You’d better love it!”
You can find out more on Steve Gaul’s mental preparation in a series of videos from one of his nutritionists and mental guide, Sara Di Felice.
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I'm the co-owner of The Music Box and a lifelong musician as a euphonium player. The son of a band director, alumnus of the University of Alabama and father of 3, I keep busy on my Peloton and managing multiple businesses.