The Tube Challenge

So here's the idea. You've got one day. There are 275 tube stations in operation (including Heathrow Terminal 4) And you've got to plan a route to travel to, from, or through each one in a single day. No cycles, taxis, or cars allowed, but you can use public transport, and will have to run to get between certain stations. Sounds crazy? Well, I'm not the only person trying to do this: check out this site and also this one written by the World Record holder!

I'm not up to the whole challenge yet, both in fitness and in knowledge of where stations are in relation to each other. Also, I've spent some time planning a route, and had something nice worked out in east London, before finding out that the Docklands Light Railway isn't part of the route. Grrrrr..... At the moment, I'm just focussing on Zone 1. The "4 minute mile" is to complete it in less than 3 hours, although the fastest claimed time I've seen is 2hrs 52 mins.

My first attempt

I thought I'd give this a go, and started from Vauxhall Station at 11.44 on Friday 8th March. My route wasn't all that bad, but there were a couple of messups, and mistakes due to inexperience such as running further than necessary at Paddington. I did have one big cock-up however, and decided to take my chances on a run instead of waiting for a train. Big mistake-I wasn't fit enough, and it meant a long(ish)run across Hyde Park- uphill and into a headwind. I finished at Knightsbridge in 3hrs 9 mins 6 seconds. The feeling of charging through a station, and diving onto a train just as the doors close, knowing that your run across the station has been worth it has to be experienced, as does trying not to mow down too many little kids on the way. I also figured out just how seriously this could be taken; down to getting on the right doors on each train in order for the fastest exit, being well-equipped, (the record holder used walkie-talkies and had friends ready at the next station to tell him whether to run, and to try to hold up a train if a connection was marginal) and being much, much fitter than I am at the moment! So far, I'm finding this fascinating-I hope it stays this way!

My second attempt

OK, I went to see the royal wedding on Saturday, and spent about 90 minutes afterwards practising some possible improvements to my Zone 1 route. I also managed to produce a list of theoretical timings, and the whole route was "supposed" to take 3hrs 5 mins. The first hour or so was identical, apart from the fact that I got 20 minutes up on the first run! The right trains came, quickly, and I only had one 4 minute wait of significance. Then came the first new section, which I had practiced on Saturday, and got a bus for an overland section, which not only saved me transit time, but I just got the train I needed at the other end. At this point I realised that my "practice" run had the potential to go well under 3 hours, or had I made a mess of the timings at the end? I soon had to decide between a wait or a run, and chose the run, despite ending up walking 300yards short of the destination station. I think it helped though, and I was soon about 20 minutes up with 4 trains to go, all on internal connections. At this stage things did slow down a little, and I had 2/3 minute waits for all of them. I also heard that there were delays on the Circle line and I think another. However, as I got onto the last train, I knew it was just a matter of how good the time would be, and I stepped onto the platform at Euston, stopped the watch at 2 hours, 45 minutes, 11 seconds. Fantastic! I believe this to be the fastest claimed time for Zone 1. However.....

I've checked and double-checked, and my route really did cover all the stations in Zone 1. As a result, I'm now thinking about the whole thing, in a day. I've got a draft route, but don't know most of the outlying stations (although I've done High Barnet to Cockfosters before, randomly!) Planning time.......

My first full attempt

Weds 4th May, 2005. The plan: to visit every single tube station in a day. Amersham to Upminster. But I figured that I couldn't get to Amersham overnight, and also that I probably wouldn't be able to make it back from Upminster as it would be well after midnight. But apart from that, I planned to visit every single one. I had to get up well before 5, and got to Moor Park, a desolate little station on the edge of Zone 6 to start. It was a cold morning, and the first couple of runs through the streets of Harrow were tough, but once I'd warmed up, and been through the centre, things were better. My first big problems were on the Central Line loop; I went round anti-clockwise, and ended up having to wait for 25 mins at Hainault, 10 at Woodford, 15 at Epping. Not good. I then had a 15 minute wait for Mill Hill East on the Northern Line.

It could have been a disaster, but things improved, and by the time I headed out to Edgware on the other Northern line branch, I had made up 25 minutes. But I managed to run in totally the wrong direction from Edgware, and had gone a mile before I realised I wasn't even on the right map page! Oops. I changed direction and finally made it, but I need to practice that one again! From there it was back into the centre, out to Uxbridge, and back down towards Heathrow. I was getting tired by now, and showed it by doing silly things like getting on wrong trains and by making poor decisions on the spot. But I made it round, finally, and got into Richmond over an hour and a half late, but it was plain sailing from here. I jumped onto the last Upminster train of the night, and adding together theoretical times at the start and end of the route, my time for the whole journey was 19 hours and 51 minutes. This is about 1 hour 20 minutes off the world record.

I was so pleased to have made it, and got back home at 1am. I could hardly feel my legs for the next two days, I'd done that much running, but it had been an amazing achievement just to get round. In terms of route, it seemed to work quite well, and the only idea I had was in reversing it. This might cause problems waiting for infrequent services to Chesham/Amersham though, but it might be easier to get to Upminster via a very early first train from Fenchurch Street. Looking at time, it's amazing I got round with the number of mistakes I made, and I wonder if I could get close to the record if I look again at the problem areas. To be continued!

Zone 1 Challenge day

Will add details in here later-came 8th out of 17 and finally got to meet all the crazy people interested in this!

My Second Full Attempt:16th June 2005

Again, I'll put more details in later; I got round in just over 19 hours though-a strong effort but I couldn't see where half an hour's improvement would come from for a world record attempt, except from great luck all day.

My Third Full Attempt: TUBE RELIEF:25th August 2005

We all know what happened on July 7th 2005. Looking back a couple of months later, the scale pales into comparison with previous terrorist attacks, or tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina and deaths in Iraq, but it struck close to home: in our city and in a normal place of security. Under the inspired direction of Geoff Marshall, the Tube Challenge community decided to show defiance to the terrorists, and to raise money for the London Bombings appeal by taking part in a mass tube challenge. I could only confirm late, but it was an amazing day. Here's what happened....

I got a lift up the day before (very kindly offered by Paul Webb), and went to a pub meet in the evening to meet some of the other competitors. I agreed to link up with David Scard; we both had routes prepared which were very different; we tossed a coin and we decided to go for mine. Which I'd never tried. Or timed. I had a look at some of the ring bound manuals of the other participants and suddenly realised that I was just a leetle bit underprepared!

At a very cold and dark Amersham at 5 the next morning, we had an inspiring team talk from Geoff, and we adopted Tony Bell onto our team. Tony was a fantastic guy to spend the day with; a great laugh, up for charging around stations, and videoing anything embarrassing all day. We got onto our first train, 67 of us, and got through the first few trains without much incident. We had a 1 minute connection at Moor Park which we didn't make, so we were all down by 10 minutes early on. At North Harrow, we all had to walk to West Harrow. Having done it before, I suggested to David that we ran out of the station so as to minimise wait getting through the ticket barriers. As we charged out of the station, Geoff thought we were off on a record attempt (against the spirit of the day) and looked ready to shoot us down for a minute.

70 people walking through the back roads of Harrow at 7 in the morning. Has to be seen to be believed. As we were lemminglikely walking up the station platform, the train we wanted came in. So the 'enthusiastic ones' screamed for the others to hurry up, and got ready to hold doors. There was mass panic, one of the last guys onto the station dropped the contents of his bag all across the platform, and 5 others scrambled him and his stuff inside the carriage. As the train pulled off, the driver said over the intercome "Well that was organised chaos, wasn't it?" which got a loud cheer and became the unofficial motto of the day. After a wait at Kenton, and a stunt to wind up Geoff at Queen's Park, we left the group and were on our own!

We got off at Marylebone, possibly an odd choice looking back, and soon we were heading down to our first key station, Olympia. We had a reasonable connection there, but lost a lot of time shortly after by jumping on a bus and not realising to jump off it at the right moment. We soon passed though Euston, and should have stopped to say hello to the support team then, but chose to leave it till later.....big mistake!

Our next outlying station was West Ruislip (after David chose to relieve himself at high speed....Tony's got it all on camera....), and the run of doom down the big scary hill of death to Ickenham. Our main concern on this section was whether we would get past the pub without stopping, but we just made it. We ran into Chris Presswell's (I think-not too good with names) team at Uxbridge, and they told us there were delays on the Central and District Lines. Guess where we wanted to go....

The next section was a bit rubbish: we had a long wait to get a Piccadilly line train down, and then got hit badly by those delays we'd heard about. We did have a wonderful moment at Rayners' Lane explaining to Tony how you can tell the difference between a Met train and a Picc train when they're coming in the distance-Picc trains have curvy tops while met trains have flat tops. Tony's got a video of us dancing on the platform demonstrating this, and I am now known as "curvy top." Not sure it'll stick actually. Daivd was great company all day; not only his encyclopaedic knowledge of the tube system, such as where trains may start from, where they're kept and how all the platofrms work, but we had quite a similar take on the day which worked very well.

One of the best moments of the day was at Chiswick Park, when after a bit of a delay, we got on our train, and a Picc train overtook us while we were still at the station. Even worse, it was going to Heathrow so it was the one we wanted. We set off, quite down about lots of recent delays, and Tony kept an eye on the train in front. "We can still see it, we can still see it, we're gaining on it, look look!" And would you believe it, we caught it up and jumped on it at Acton Town, before heading down to Heathrow.

I wanted to do Terminal 4, for completeness sake, and David and Tony decided to go along with it. Sadly, I had yet another bad connection there, and it ended up taking quite a bit of time. We shortly met Richard, the guy going round on his own, and he was clearly having a good time of things. Things soon improved, and we headed to our halfway point mid-afternoon with spirits raised. But something had to go wrong, didn't it? We were heading through Euston for the final time, and despite the fact that there was a very good connection waiting for us, we decided to go and say hi to the support team (a huge thankyou to each of you, by the way!) in the cafe at the station. We were a bit enthusiastic, and apparently caused a security alert running across the station as John Prescott was passing through, thankfully the support team told the police who we were.

So we missed our connection, and jumped on a bus that seemed to be going in the right direction. Through an estate. Round a hospital. Round another hospital. Oh, it was the same one again actually. Alongside a lake. Finally to where we wanted. We ran round the corner to our station, then saw the police tape. At every entrance.... I asked a police officer what was going on, and she said that there was a suspicious package and that the station was cordoned off. After swearing and suspecting Geoff of trying to slow us down, we went by foot and bus to another station, and after a 5 minute wait got going again. We met up with Tim and Tugs, another team, and compared routes. It looked like they were pretty similar, but they were a little up on us. Next up was the trip to Epping, still with Tim and Tugs. Our first train unceremoniously dumped us at Debden or Loughton or somewhere like that, and the board said: EPPING: 19 mins We seriously considered giving up on Epping, but decided to stick it out and went to get drinks. The board then decided to put another train in 8 minutes earlier, but it was still painful, and the turnround at Epping was no better. I reckon we lost about 50 minutes on that section, compared to what should have happened if we hadn't stopped then at Euston. Oops!

The next section was great, taking out Cannon Street (early closing) and several Zone 1 stations before heading out onto some long stretches to suburbia. We had a train to Stanmore that was only marginally faster than walking, a decent connection at Edgware itself, then up to Mill Hill East. When we got to Camden, nothing was signed at all for MHE, so we went to Finchley Central, and asked the station staff if they could tell us when the next train was. They said it was at Euston, and would be 20 mins!! That would have left us very tight for the last Upminster train, and I suggested to my team to go on. ,and miss MHE out. Good job they didn't listen to me.....

A couple of minutes later, the station staff said they'd sorted something, and that we should go to the MHE platform. Sure enough, the destination board said:

Woo!!!!! The sight of 100 people getting off the train and 10 of us getting on.....priceless. It was still a big delay, but not the disaster it would have been. We were dancing and cheering on the station looking like total idiots, but we were so into trying to get round, and tired, that we didn't care.

The rest of the route worked pretty nicely, and we got onto the District line hoping for a good connection. We just missed a train for Tower Hill, but had a 10 minute wait for an Upminster train, a real shame. We thought we would meet lots of other tube reliefers, but only met Chris and Phil who joined us at Mile End. They told us that most people were already at Upminster, but had missed out stations. We were exhausted, and pulled into Upminster in a time of 19 hours, 54 minutes, 29 seconds.

We were indeed the last to finish, but one of about 5 teams to complete the route, and one of only 2 (the other being Richard) to complete the route including Terminal 4. But despite all the running, and the tension and adrenaline, that wasn't what the day was about. I think I've raised just over 150 so far in pledges, and the event itself looks on course to raise 20,000: what a difference that momey will make. Good on everyone who took part or contributed.

That's not edited by the way, I'll probably tweak it later and put pictures on!

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