Most of us aren't built for Olympic gold. Michael Phelps? He'd blow us out of the water. But it seems many of our neighbors have pulled off awe-inspiring acts of another (wackier) sort: Washington enjoys one of the highest rates of Guinness World Record-holders per capita -- roughly one for every 17,000 residents. We've got the tallest NBA player (ex-Bullet Gheorghe Muresan at 7 feet 7 inches) and the highest score in an NFL regular-season game (the Redskins beat the Giants 72-41 in 1966). The longest swinging marathon (no, not that kind of swinging) lasted 24 hours 30 minutes in Chevy Chase. And one female Washingtonian possesses the world's largest natural breasts, size 48V. Want to join this standout crowd? Follow these record-setting tips:
CHOOSE OR LOSE. Guinness, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, has 40,000 records in its database, giving you plenty of possibilities for glory. Areas include "Human Body," "Amazing Feats" and "Sports & Games" (forget "Natural World," which is reserved for oddities such as a moth that eats 86,000 times its own weight). You're also invited to suggest new categories on its Web site (www.guinnessworldrecords.com).
The London-based venture advises proposers of new ideas to think in terms of "largest, smallest, fastest" and says proposals should involve stunts that are "provable, quantifiable and breakable." Most important, says Stewart Newport, 40, official "keeper of the records," is that a potential record have global allure. "It must appeal to someone in Australia or anywhere else in the world," he says. Guinness rejects events that are too risky, especially if they endanger spectators or the general public. But at the same time, attempts can't be too easy. When Ashrita Furman, 49 -- holder of 22 Guinness records (including the one for most records) -- proposed that he skip five miles, as no skipping record yet existed, Guinness demanded that he skip an entire marathon. So he did, in 5 hours 55 minutes.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE. If Guinness endorses your attempt, it's time to start training. "Realize that it's something serious," Furman says. Three million people buy the Guinness Book of World Records each year, in 23 languages, so having your name added to the tome is no small deal. Before Bethesda resident Ben Rich, 27, helped set the record for longest dance party (52 hours 3 minutes), he prepared by standing for 12 continuous hours, including while dining out.
BE CREATIVE. There's no one way to complete a stunt. When Furman first attempted to clap for the longest continuous time -- loudly, since a key requirement was that it be audible from 120 yards away -- he sat in the sun and suffered heat stroke. He then realized that sound travels better over water and found a shady spot next to a pond. Guinness approved the location, and Furman set the record -- to great applause.
PROVE IT. Guinness's "Record Claim Guidelines" recommend that people "check . . . shortly before their attempt to ensure that the relevant record has not been broken." Then, grab at least two witnesses who are "independent of each other as well as being independent of the person attempting the record." (Newport's advice: Choose "people of good standing in the community.") Finally, be sure to document your record-setting day. Guinness accepts virtually any proof -- photos, videotapes, and audio or newspaper clips.
REAP YOUR REWARD. You've done it! Unfortunately, there's no medal or stirring rendition of your national anthem to be had -- but at least you're saved the embarrassment of crying on national TV. Guinness will send you a certificate and you may even get in the book, although only about 3,500 records make the cut. Regardless, Guinness doesn't charge for attempts, so there's no good reason not to try: Someday you, too, could be the Mary Lou Retton of cockroach eating -- just swallow more than 36 in one minute.