I wish I could just leave it at that as I do not think 100k words would do it much more justice (to me) but it obviously would leave a few dangling pieces for the folks who followed Lou’s assault on the Guinness Book marathon Drumming record. We had thousands of people, both locally and around the world rallied behind Lou’s effort. I’m not the same person I was a few days ago, our gym and the community surrounding it has transformed…all from a guy sitting on a drum kit for 5 days. Let me provide a little back-ground and then walk through the event as best I can.
Robb, Nicki…I have an Idea.
Nicki and I were on an airport bus coming back from some nutrition gig. We were half delirious, as we usually are on these trips and Nicki was checking her Facebook. She started laughing and I asked her what was up. She said “I just got a message from Lou. He wants to meet and discuss getting him ready to break the Guinness Book of World Rerecords.” “Crazy” I said. And right I was.
We met with Lou when we returned to Chico and discussed the details of the event. The current record was set at 120 hrs. One had to play recognizable songs, not take more than 30 seconds between drumming…and one could accumulate 5 min of rest per hour played. Nicki and I felt like it was doable but I wanted to talk to some people who were more well versed in sleep deprivation mixed with high level performance. I talked to a few friends in the military (thanks Steve and Gmac). They felt like the project was “very” doable. We relayed this information to Lou and decided officially that the project was “a go”.
The project was huge. We needed legal help, medical oversight and a ton of support staff. We decided to hold the event at NorCal Strength & Conditioning as it would make it easy for media to cover the event and it gave us many options including showers, multiple drum kits etc. We were entrusted with developing the strength & conditioning and nutritional plan that would power Lou through this event. When we started Lou was in poor shape. Very overweight, terrible diet, lots of booze and not much sleep. We had him do blood work before altering his nutrition, and we started him on a 3 day per week strength and conditioning program in addition to other activities he did on his own.
Did we randomize Lou’s training to “build work capacity across broad times and modal domains”? NO. We did not. We looked at the demands of his event, considered the orthopedic issues that were likely to arise and built a program to not only make Lou fit for this event, but to prevent the inevitable overuse injuries that arise in an ultra-endurance event such as this. We slowly exposed Lou to a specific pool of movements, and ramped up his work capacity. We coupled this with drumming in such a way that made 6 hour stints on the kit seem effortless. I’m going to be intentionally vague on the details here. Lou ate a PRISTINE Paleo diet. He lost over 30lbs and completely transformed his physique, fitness and blood chemistries. Lou lost 17 lbs in the first two weeks. This is TYPICAL of what is possible with a Paleo diet, smart training and SLEEP.
We had meetings every 1-2 weeks to hammer out logistics and talk strategy. Lou’s self-talk was that of a champion…positive and focused, but not cocky.
The Music and the Mission
The most commonly asked question, whether by media or just people near the organizing was “Why?”. Why subject yourself to this? To some degree this simply represented a challenge for Lou. It seemed difficult, why not give it a shot? The deeper motivation was bringing attention to music and kids. Dixon drums donated a beautiful drum set to be given away as a fundraiser for Little Kids Rock. Amidst all this was a constant theme from Lou “the set list needs to be aggressive and I need to play the music the way it was meant to be played…”
Let’s look at that a little more closely. The set list is the music that must be played during the event. No song can be repeated within a 4 hr period. No longer than 30 sec between drum beats (you can not have a 5 min guitar solo during a song while simply sitting on the kit) etc. So, if you were looking at a 5 day long drumming marathon, what types of music would you choose and HOW would you play that music? Most sane people would choose relatively slow music and would play that music as conservatively as possible. Well, Lou had a different strategy.
We started setting up the drums and video equipment on Sunday of last week in an effort to hammer out any unforeseen technical issues. We all became more and more anxious as the day grew near. On Thursday, Jan 14th at 7:30 am we kicked things off . We had over 120 support staff that would be managed by about 8 core individuals who would trade off various shifts. Or so we thought! Lou came out of the gate BLAZING. We had ear-plugs for everyone in the gym and it was still loud. 35 min in Lou broke his first stick. Then another. We all looked at each other and I said “let’s just give him an hour to get the adrenaline out of his system and then we can calm him down…” Two hours later, Lou still hammering the drums like he was doing a 45 min set, we started making hand motions for him to tone the playing down. Lou played HARDER and would have given us The Bird if his hands were not occupied. We had to buy carbon-fibre unbreakable drumsticks. Lou was not going to make things easy.
I had always been focused on getting Lou across the finish line…and in my mind that meant play conservatively. Avoid orthopedic issues and save energy. We figured out a reasonable sleep budget that would not be fun, but seemed doable. Lou, had said in our meetings that he wanted to play aggressively…but I never really processed that. I was focused on efficiency and “winning”. This would prove to be a power struggle that Lou ultimately won.
Lou was so focused on playing that he barely ate or drank…we pestered and hounded him but he was…a pain in the ass! Lou started getting cramping and some hot-spots on his wrists at hour 8. I did not think I would see this type of stuff until day 3 or 4…we were in serious trouble. We pulled Lou off the kit for an unscheduled break and implored him to eat and drink. Dr. John Fragoso came in and helped to work on Lou in our 5 min pit crews. Our sophisticated plan, and our sleep just went out the window. Lou continued to play like he only had a 45 min set…and I wanted to kill Lou!
On day 2 Lou’s hands and writs were very swollen. We had taped his wrists but this did not seem to do much for him. Despite the swelling and pain Lou was still hammering on the kit and doing twirling drumstick tricks. We bought some stiff wrist braces and FORCED them on Lou at one of his breaks. I told him he HAD to play more conservatively. Lou played one song with the braces, I went around the corner, he pulled the braces off. I jumped up on the drum-riser and…yelled and yelled. Lou has been a client and friend for over 4 years, we have hung out with him, sang karaoke with him…and I wanted to KILL him. I called Lou every name I could think of, a few ethnic slurs…and then sat down and started thinking abut HOW we were still going to pull this off. We put ice buckets behind Lou and occasionally got him to ice his hands. We started dousing his head between songs, but all of this had to happen in less than 30 seconds or we would be disqualified. We had to give Lou much more frequent breaks because of how hard he was playing…our sleep budget was rapidly disappearing. We were just heading into day 3.
I went about 52 hrs straight without sleep in one stint. No one in the main group got more than 3hrs of sleep on any day. We slept in the gym or in the car. The car was preferable as Lou was playing SO hard. At day 3 Lou’s drum kits started coming apart…this is how hard he was playing. Drum techs would put the pieces back together, and it would just keep coming apart. Lou was even splitting time on two kits and they were still coming apart. The people watching online and who came into the gym to support Lou were stunned that he was still playing at this level. We monitored Lou’s food and electrolytes. We had 4-5 people on each of his “pit-stops” to ice, tape and try to get pain and inflammation down. This meant no-one could really go home or at least had to stay nearby. We had a schedule in which we wanted to keep Lou to but occasionally he would just come un-raveled, need a pee break etc. and we would need to peel him off the kit. Days 3 and 4 Lou would fade out and we would hound him to eat and hydrate. He would bounce back and instead of conserving…he would DESTROY the drums again. Every set was a kamikaze mission. Lou approached the event like he was a bomb exploding. Our best efforts simply turned this into a controlled demolition…My plan, by contrast, was more akin to an Austrian Train. On time, predictable and controlled. Austrian train to controlled demolition. Yep.
In addition to Lou seemingly trying to kill himself on the drums, we had technical and staffing issues that nearly derailed the whole event. For 5 days we were in a singular focus: Keep Lou Going.
About day three, in a delirium, I was trying to figure out what the hell Lou was up to. I had serious doubts he would do 120hrs at the intensity he was playing. But then something popped into my mind…I had asked Lou if he had any type of inspirational poster he wanted put up at the event. Without pause he said he’d like the poster of Muhammad Ali standing over Sunny Liston. I knew exactly which Image he was talking about and at day 3 it made me think about the difference between going for a decision or a knock-out. Many fighters go for a conservative win, do the bare minimum and pull out a win, perhaps even a championship…but the artistry and passion are sorely lacking. The alternative is the fighter who goes for the knockout…who fights for the fans and is interested in putting on the BEST show possible, even if it means getting beat. In that moment I “got” what Lou was up to. He wanted to win, but he wanted to win in a way that was inspiring and that did honor to the music, the profession of drumming and the people watching the event, both live and the thousands of people who watched via ustream.
Days 3 and 4 were a blur. When Lou ate and hydrated, he crushed things, occasionally however, he would refuse to eat or drink. He told us after the event why…and it’s pretty wacky, but that is his story to share.
Day 5 was filled with ups and downs. Lou played like a mad-man, then faded in and out. We were rapidly running out of rest time for Lou. We barely woke Lou up in time after a 45 min nap on day 4 so he did not want to sleep again…he just wanted 10 min breaks where we iced him and let him lay down. So the last effort Lou was up for something like 42 hours straight. We could not get Lou to eat or hydrate and I could see the aperture closing. We made it to the evening of day 5 but Lou was barely hanging in. He would fade in and out…we would clap and yell him back into playing (we could not touch him while he was playing). Lou rallied a little, then a slower song came on and he continued to falter. There were about 50 people in the gym cheering him on at this point. I looked at Lou and at our staff. Andy Deas had been up for nearly 40 hrs straight at this point and we had 12 more hrs to go. Nearly all of the staff was in a similar state. I could not justify dragging Lou through another 12 hrs like this. We kept hoping for the seemingly endless “Lou Mars Rallies” but the final one was simply not to be. We pulled Lou off the kit and he still tried to negotiate staying and playing…he begged to go back out, but I could not do it.
Over the course of 5 days Lou played, LITERALLY into exhaustion again and again and again. He had an accumulated 90 minutes of sleep over FIVE DAYS. He played the drums with the passion of someone who LIVES for music and could not compromise his love of the music, not even to “win”.
I have been thinking of nothing but this event since it wrapped up. It has changed me, the support staff, the folks who came by the gym to cheer and the untold thousands of people who watched online. Everyone gave everything they had. I cannot remember ever being as focused or committed to anything in my life.
Sleep deprivation does wacky things to your sense of time, especially when you are working against the clock like we were. It has made me think about the timing of the event in a larger way. The current record holder, Russ Prager, set his 120 hr mark in March of last year. Now I completely respect the effort Russ put into that event, but what if Lou had done this one year ago? Lou would be the current champion and Russ would be facing and interesting conundrum. Play a conservative set list, beat the 108.5 hrs…but to what end? The challenger in events like this always has a certain advantage of being able to deconstruct the event and try to figure out a way to beat the current record. Lou certainly had that opportunity but chose to play with his heart and soul. I’m curious if ANYONE tries to tackle this record again as they now have two standards to play to: Beat not only the 120 hr mark set by Russ playing a conservative set, but also bring as much soul and passion to the effort as Lou did.
We will have a ustream interview this evening at 7:30 PST. Local television KNVN will kick things off, then we will open things to the folks who watched online.
Here is a link to the Ustream video. I’ll post a few of the news links as they emerge.