The One Where Geoff Still Plays With Trains
Hello, my name is Geoff, and I am 37 years old.
By now some people think that I should be wise and sensible and acting my age by not spending all day running around on tube trains, but they fail to understand one major thing - it's just too much fun.
And fun is good. For if you stop playing, you stop having fun and grow old. And I want to be a young 37 year old - which means it's time to go out and play with trains again ...
The alarm goes off at 4am. I am already dressed for the day and my bag is packed. I do go to the toilet though and pop a couple of imodimum tablets, swig down a quick instant coffee and Chris - my all important backup man for the day - has crashed over at my place overnight, and we're up and out of the door by 4.20am, walking down to the bus stop. We're heading out on the tube - but not to break the record, because ... it's just a test day.
It's early. But at least there's daylight. Here we go then ... 83 Bus #spwt
The first tweet of the day (complete with 'Still Plays With Trains' hashtag) comes from the bus stop. My shivering fingers making it even harder to type on my iPhone smudge-board because it's quite chilly. It's going to get warmer later though. Probably about the time that my iPhone battery dies on me.
The reason why we're classing it as a test day, and not a real attempt is twofold. Firstly - it's a brand new route we've got, and we're trying things out today that we've never done before and so we don't know if it's going to actually work or not. Secondly - I am sure I am not going to be fit enough. The people that currently hold the record did a lot of running to achieve it - more than what any other challengers have done before, and so to get a record time nowadays, you have to be fit and agile enough to run between stations at a lot of places. Additionally, I also hurt my ankle a few weeks ago, and it's not fully recovered. So I have got to take it easy on the runs for fear of making it worse.
The 83 comes on time, and not surprisingly we're the only people on it - but it fills up more and more as we get closer to Wembley. Night shift workers going home, early shift workers going to work. Doing the crappy paid jobs-you-don't-want-to-do, and yet someone's got to do it which is why they're also up at 4am on a Friday.
The train we want to get out of Chesham (at 06.22) actually comes from Wembley Park at 05.36 - and that's what we're going to get. We arrive early at almost exactly five o'clock, and have plenty of time to buy an all day ticket. I've got an Oyster zone 1-3 travelcard with me and I'll probably use that to make changes in the central area and for buses, but for everything else, I'll need a paper ticket.
Hash tag of the day then #spwt - Still Plays With Trains.
We're on the train up ... and it may have been daylight even since when we left at just after four o'clock this morning, but it's chilly. The forecast says though that it is going to be at least 24C later, but right now in just my t-shirt I can feel the cold and I rub my arms to warm myself. I also eat half a banana - it's impossible for me to eat a whole one - because I stand the taste, or the smell, or even the texture. But they make damn good on-the-go tube challenging food, and it's the first of four that I will only partially eat during the day.
It was odd to sit in America for over three - almost four - years and think of the tube system running relentlessly back home. The iconic transport system that is the veins of London, shifting millions of people around the year, sometimes quickly .. sometimes slowly ... keeping the people of this city moving - the best city in the world - ticking over. I would often joke to people that I would go back home one day because I missed not being able to ride the Underground.
And we're off ... 1/270 #spwt http://twitpic.com/1tqggv
The first part of the day is a pretty standard set routine for everyone, and not really a secret at all. Depending on the changing timetables, you start at either Amersham or Chesham, change at Chalfont & Latimer and go up and do the other, and then come down to Moor Park.
There, you wait and connect onto a northbound train that runs up in Watford, where you cross the platform and get the next train out south.
Watford's pretty in the sunshine. 8/270 #spwt
One of the weird things that still gets me about the tube challenge is the lame joke that I quite often do by pointing to a tube map, and say to someone 'See that? .. I've been there', indicating the whole of the system as I have - truthfully- been to every station. But the odd feeling that I have is that I've never visited places like Watford. Ten times I've been round the entire system now, and ten times I've merely crossed the platform without actually going outside.
I don't know what the station building looks like, I don't know whether there are shops outside of whether it goes onto a residential street. I don't have a feel for the place that it serves, or am able to see for myself just how far from Watford town centre it really is. One day, I will take a trip back to it and actually get out, and have a look around. The same goes with Fairlop, Uxbridge and Mill Hill East too.
When the TV Programme about the challenge was made back in 2004, I remember the director asking me "Why do you do this?", and one of my friends used the 'Because it's there...' line, which I never liked and wasn't comfortable with. But yet I struggled to come up with a decent answer.
A better answer now comes to me when I look at the majority of people that I see riding the tube all day who look unhappy. They look like they don't want to be there. They look like they're stuck in their Monday to Friday, nine to five job and would be happier if they were just to break out and do something slightly crazy once in a while.
Running around all 270 tube stations is certainly crazy. And it makes me happy. I know that's still not a complete answer, but I feel like I'm working towards it.
After Watford is where you first have a choice of what to do next. And that choice usually comes at North Harrow, where you can go on foot in three directions - Rayners Lane, West Harrow and even Harrow & Wealdstone are 'on foot' destinations for challengers, and I took one of them. It was time to run.
Oh fuck. The running. I'd forgotten about the running ... pant/gasp/cough/wheeze #spwt
Now I was worried about my ankle - really worried - and so when I say 'run' what I really mean is that I would jog lightly for a bit, then slow to a fast walking pace, get my breath back, and then after a few seconds speed up to a jogging pace again. There was only one time (later on in the day) where I think I'd warmed up sufficiently to enable me to do a whole run without stopping, but early on in the day I was taking it easy.
Sweating. Ankle sore. First missed connection ... six minutes down on schedule ... #spwt
And this is why it was a test day. We knew from the start that we could probably miss our first on-foot connection if I didn't run all the way, and that would put us six minutes behind schedule. And that was fine ... I was prepared and had already accepted in my mind that that would probably happen, for I knew then that a record time would not be possible, and the pressure would be off to just go round for the rest of the day enjoying myself, and not having to worry about if I was going to get a new fastest time or not.
Except that something unusually lucky happened ... which makes me realise that no matter how many times you go out and do this (and bear in mind that this was my tenth time of going round the whole system), it seems that every time you go you find out something new, or figure out a slightly better way of doing things, and that's what happened next when I got the time back with the help of a bus that I didn't even know about and certainly wasn't planning on getting.
Not running on the first on-foot part meant that I'd got the train after the one I meant to get ... four minutes later. And then went to a point where I turned around and got the train after the one I should have got wasted me another two minutes ... six minutes down in total. But the part after that took me to a point where I came out of a station onto another on foot connection, and as I came out of the station a bus magically appeared in front of my eyes - pulling into the bus stop immediately outside the station as I came out.
'Do you go to ... ?' I asked the driver with the name of the station pointing just down the road to where I knew the station was 'Yup .. it's the next stop mate!' he said cheerfully back, and I was on, swiping my Oyster card and getting slightly excited because I realised that I might make up time.
Made unexpected and unplanned bus connection. Lost time got back, right back on schedule! #spwt
And I did make up that time. Getting that bus meant not running or walking and I made up the six minutes behind that I was, and got the train that was on my schedule and not the one behind it that I thought I was going to get. And that's the annoyance and beauty of the tube challenge - the trains are more reliable and 'on time' than what the buses are in my experience. Some days, you just get fortuitous with a bus connection and you make a connection that you wouldn't otherwise make, and this is why it's always potentially possible to make up lost time.
And so I twittered, and then sent a text message to Chris, saying that actually ... far from thinking it was a test day, if it was going to go this well all day, then maybe it could be a record-setting day. Maybe .. couldn't it?
Half an hour later, and I meet Chris at another station that I've run to. And again when I say 'run' I was really jogging lightly for a bit, stopping to walk, then picking up the jogging again when I'd got my breath back.
I'm in walkie-talkie communication with Chris, and I take mine from where it's clipped to my belt as I jog up to the next station. Having a point man ahead at the next place that you're running to is helpful, because they can tell you from the departure board when the next train is due, so you know if you've really got to run the last bit or can slow down and walk. As it happens, at this station there is no departure board, and instead Chris has his Blackberry out and is checking the train times on the TFL website instead. I've got a couple of minutes and the station is in sight, and so I slow to a walk. 'No need to run' crackles through Chris on the radio.
I've been thinking about the age thing. The 'being 37 is too old to run around on the underground'. I know that some people think that the secret is to grow old gracefully, and not fight it. After all - being old beats the alternative, right?
And wasn't it in 'Tuesdays With Morrie', when asked if he wanted to be young again that Morrie had said 'No! I am where I'm supposed to be', and that part I can agree with. I'm meant to be running around on the tube system, especially at my age.
The cheery station assistant smiles and says 'Good morning' to me as I come in through the gate. Later Chris tells me that he'd been chatting to him for several minutes, obviously explaining what was going on. 'I thought that's what it was' he'd said. 'We get quite a few people coming through this way early on in the day doing the challenge' he'd said. 'Quite a few?', says Chris. 'Oh yes, a couple of people per week I would say'. This was news to us - we didn't realise there were so many people out there doing it, but apparently so.
We get to the end of a line and as Chris is with me I've got time to relax. Drink water. Eat another half banana, and let him take photos and log times. I fire off some text messages and tweet replies and update the online world.
Last time I did this (2005) Twitter didn't exist ... 29/270 and on schedule. #spwt
And as I type that I think about all the technology that has come on in the last five years - the last time that I'd run the tube. There was no twitter or iPhones. The mobile internet was still in its infancy, but now .. checking trains times online is the norm. Chris & I mused though, and decided what would be really helpful would be to have a complete set of the working timetables with us at all times. We reckoned that the big heavy and bulky timetables which I owned a set off (obtained from TFL under the freedom of information act) could be scanned in, turned into PDF's and loaded up onto an iPad ... and then you just take that around with you all day and you've got a much lighter version of all the timetables in your bag, sorted.
Basking in the sun at Preston Road. 36/270 #spwt
The turn around as Preston Road takes longer than normal. My route is different to what I've ever done before and I've got here at a different time to what I've done in the past. Instead of a two minutes wait, it's five minutes and it seems like forever. But the sun is out, and so I sit back on a bench in the sun and soak up the morning rays onto my face and enjoy the warmth. Then the Met train trundles in and I get on at the correct carriage and door position.
At the top of the Bakerloo things get a little delayed. There's a turn around at Harrow & Wealdstone which is harmless enough, but the train up into H&W is late, and it makes me wonder if it had been on time would I have been on the southbound train beforehand.
Heading south on the Bakerloo. About to go underground for a while. #spwt
At Queen's Park the underground stops being overground and actually goes underground and I realise that I'm about to be out of the loop for a while. But before that happens we get our first true delay of the day.
The train we're on heading south stops outside Queens Park, and the driver apologises to us, as a train that is in the siding is let out in front of our train to start a new journey. We see it crawl past us slowly, whilst we wait ... time ticking away. And when it's passed ... we think we're going to be on our way again, when the driver comes on again and apologises some more. The line controller has decided to let out a second train out of the sidings and into the platform first, and we just have to sit .. and wait ... and sit .. and wait .. and before we know it, another six minutes have passed which we can do nothing about.
Will update when I resurface. 42/270 #spwt
And so into the maze of zone one and inner London and the twists and turns of challenging in the central area. What a lot of people fail to realise is that they key to a successful challenge is how you 'manage' the station in the central zones ... closer together, and more congested. All the outer 'spokes' of the system are pretty much set in the way that you do them, and everyone knows the tricks. But in the middle? There are countless possibilities, and all of them with their pros and cons. And so at 10 o'clock in the morning, I'm changing at a very busy commuter station with the morning rush hour still just about in effect, one that I've never changed at before on a challenge, and one where I've very deliberately run down the 'Exit only in emergency' signed corridors, because it's quicker than following the approved signs that you're 'meant' to go. And it is quicker, even fighting against the flow of people coming towards me, and I make a swift change .. followed by another .. and I'm off off off and running and away, heading out back into the suburbs again.
The sun! It burns! Resurfaced. Back in the boonies of zone 6. Might be five mins behind. #spwt
Just after ten thirty we burst back out into the sunshine and I swear I can feel my pupils shrink as they adjust to the rays. London has officially warmed up for the day, and we're well on the way to getting up to the 25C temperatures that the forecast is now predicting. I think about how it's going to be later at about two o'clock when I know I'm going to be out somewhere running uphill in the sweaty sunshine, heh.
The next two hours run smoothly. I'm getting quite a few replies back on twitter now, some Follow Friday's, re-tweets and it seems also that I've caught the attention of the 'Tube Challenge Community'. So at the end of a line somewhere at around 11am where Chris is waiting for me, he's also waiting with Sam (a girl) and Garion (a guy) that I know. Sam in fact is known all too well to me, as she was part of the team that were the people to break my previous 18 hours, 35 minutes, 43 seconds record ... by just five seconds. Yeah .. five seconds!
Personally, I like to tease Sam and point out that technically all she really did was tie with me because she started on the same timetabled train as me, and finished on the same timetabled train as me - it just so happened to run five seconds faster on the day that she did it and was able to claim a new record time! But hats off to Sam, she had also held last year a record time of 17 hours and 2 minutes, for getting round the now East-London-Line-Less network of 270 stations that I was now attempting.
So as we headed back into London and out again, I drank water, ate food, and the conversation got slightly geeky about potential routes and times.
Tube Challenge diet: bananas and snickers bars. And lots of water. #spwt
A few stops later and my previous tube-partner-in-crime Neil joins us. He's been at work in the morning and unable to be with us from the start, and he'd never wanted to do the whole thing anyway as he was very very unfit - but he was happy to come and help out and offer support, and so at just after eleven o'clock we stuck our heads out of the train we were on and called down the platform to him and he jumped on board and joined us for the rest of the day. (He later worked out that he went to 179 stations during the day, Chris must have done about 200 as well).
There are new toilets at finchley central! Heading up to MHE. 83/279 #spwt
Into the afternoon and into the depths of the end of the Northern Line. Up until this point I had been carrying round an empty water bottle in my bag - for that 'caught short' moment where I might really need to pee. But strangely enough at no point during the day did I need to use it. I used the toilets at Finchley Central, Woodford and Richmond stations, but didn't ever have to relieve myself elsewhere - and certainly not into a bottle, not this time. The Imodium tablets that I'd taken also ensured that I didn't have to 'sit down' at any point during the day either.
When you do something like this enough times, it gets into your head, your imagination, your thoughts, and there's been quite a few times now where I've woken up and realised that I'd just been dreaming of running about on London on the tube. It happened a lot when I was in America, it was as if it was calling home to me. 'Come back!' It would say, 'Come back to London where you belong!' And so here I am, committing myself to this amazing city.
We then proceeded to have the best Mill Hill East connection that I have ever known or done in all my time of challenging. I can remember painfully standing here waiting for up to twenty-five minutes for a train before, and have known of challengers to have just missed their planned MHE train by a few seconds and given up there and then, because they know that waiting twenty minutes for the next one will put them too far behind for a record time.
(For a really good time - and certainly to beat the record - you need three really good connections - 'The Perfect Three' as some call it, at Mill HIll East, Kensington Olympia and the Hainault Loop. I just had a perfect MHE. Would the others be as good?)
Well, I had a three minute wait at Finchley Central, went up to MHE, waited just two minutes before it came back again, and then instantly got onto a northbound train heading up High Barnet - the fastest I have ever done it.
Just had my all-day 9-zone travel card inspected. The guy looked 'surprised' Ha. #spwt
In those two minutes that I sat and waited at MHE though, a ticket inspector got on the train, and asked 'Do you have a ticket to travel today sir?', and although I was just about to say 'Do I? I do!' and tell him what I was doing, I realised that there'd been what sounded like a slight accusatory tone attached to the politeness, and I decided that I didn't like that and wouldn't be jolly to him. Instead I just said 'Yes' and showed him my travelcard. My all-day travelcard. My peak-day-all-day-travelcard, that cost sixteen quid and covers all nine zones. Do I have a ticket to travel, sir? Hell yes I do. In fact I don't just have any ticket to travel, I have the ultimate ticket to travel, so stuff that up your wotsit and chew on it mate.
Whilst I'd been going to Mill Hill East, Chris & Neil had gone ahead to High Barnet and got a 307 bus ahead and over to Oakwood on the Piccadilly Line. When I got to High Barnet, I had an annoying moment when the camera decided that that was the moment that the batteries were going to die on me, and I couldn't take a picture. Instead, I had to improvise and used my iPhone to take a shaky picture and then ran outside to the bus stop. As I waited, I swapped the batteries out, took a better picture of the outside of the station, and at that point, a 307 bus rolled into view - all in less than two minutes. Brilliant.
Now there are plenty of ways and options to get between High Barnet and Cockfosters. Bus, foot, a combination of the two, or you might be mad enough like some people I know and run the whole three miles. Uphill. And obviously I'm not going to tell you what I did ... especially when I tell you that when I looked at the times later, I realised that I'd done it in the fastest time that I'd ever done it - Twenty two minutes to get between the two stations was a personal best for me, and yes ... it had involved some footwork, and I was feelin' it.
Just left Cockfosters. Ohmigod. The sweat is pouring off of me. Help help help. #spwt
I'd actually just missed a train by a lack of platform indicator at Cockfosters, and had to wait three minutes for the next one. That was annoying, but I could live with it. When I pulled into Oakwood and Chris & Neil got on, the conversation sprang instantly to the time, if we were on for the record or not, and I instantly banned that anyone should be allowed to utter the phrase 'It's going well, isn't it?'. But it was okay, Neil instantly got around this by pointing out that we weren't going for the record .. we were just testing out our route, and thus it was a test day. So it was OK to say it, as long as we said 'For a test day ... it's going really well isn't it?'. And it was. Wasn't it? I didn't like to check against the schedule that I could feel burning against my right butt cheek through the back pocket of my shorts, and so I didn't look. We just kept going.
Ohmigod. Walthamstow over to the Central line in 22 minutes! I fucking rule! #spwt
If High Barnet to Cockfosters was good, then getting to the Central Line was even better. 'What to do when you get to Walthamstow' has thrown up a whole number of options and possibilities over the years for challengers, and this time I did something that I'd never even considered before, a new tactic of what to do when you get to the end of the Vic, and it worked a treat. It was fast. I made the connection, and I was ecstatic.
What's the happiest you've ever felt? When you graduated? Got married? Had a child? Won a tenner on the lottery?
Happiness can be judge in many ways and is of course entirely relative to the task in hand that you're undertaking. But I'll tell you what makes me most happy : When something that you've worked hard at gives you a result. It works out. It pays off. The effort that you've made comes good. And right now, I was feeling pretty fucking happy.
Chris & Neil had gone another way, and were headed for Woodford whilst I went up to Epping and back by myself. The afternoon sun is now at its warmest, and I think I'm starting to smell.
I'm at Epping. I'm hot, sweaty, but am on target. #spwt http://twitpic.com/1ttn20
Oh, and Epping = 126/270 stations. #spwt
I come back down to Woodford and have to wait thirteen minutes for the 'Hainault Loop' train. Chris is complaining but I think this is quite good ... on a previous challenge I once waited for just over half an hour here, so I considered a mere thirteen minutes to be quite quick. We sit on a bench and I lament the fact that I forgot to bring my mini tripod for the camera, otherwise I'd have taken a group photo of us sitting on the bench.
The train arrives on time, and round the loop we go, humming the obligatory theme tune at Grange Hill. At Roding Valley, in the twenty seconds that the doors were open I dared to run onto the platform, dispose of my rubbish, and ran back onto the train all in one swift sweeping movement. The banter was good, more ice cold water was drunk and for a brief moment I got lost in having a moment of thinking that as nothing had gone majorly wrong so far, maybe nothing would go wrong for the rest of the day. Eight and a half hours in, hopefully just under eight and a half hours to go. We were halfway.
146/270. Over half way on station count. And we're Still Playing With Trains out between west ham and upminster. #spwt
Out on the District towards Upminster things started to get busy again passenger-wise as we caught the people sneaking out of work early on a Friday and heading home for the weekend. The accents were distinctly Essex. The bling count average noticeably high. I felt like I didn't fit in, especially in my hot, sweaty state.
I can only describe my rank sweaty state right now as "moist". That's a yukky word isn't it? 148/270 #spwt
Normally, on previous challenges (where I haven't finished at Upminster) it's around this time that I normally have my afternoon malaise. Fatigue kicks in as the adrenalin levels drop. I get grumpy. I close my eyes and have a nap .. something along those lines anyway. But not this time. In fact, I'd been wondering all day when I was going to crash, but it didn't happen ... if anything, I was more buoyed than ever when I had my fastest ever Upminster change.
In and out of Upminster in 42 seconds. Is it wrong that I have an erection? #spwt
Judging from the many @geofftech tweet replies I got to this, it's very wrong, yes.
Re-routing the route on the fly to great success! God we're good. #spwt
It's going to sound obvious when I say it, but the best routes are the ones that give you options, choices and flexibility. I think back to my naive days of having a route, and sticking to that route, and not going anywhere else than what the fixed plan is. But this is not the way to get round the whole system in the fastest time, as we then proved when again - thanks to the magic of Chris on his Blackberry, we had a brainwave to work out some alternative times and made a change which saved us a few extra minutes.
And we carried on, although I had a quick 'wash' first ... courtesy of some facial wipes that Chris had brought. I made sure there were no children about on the train that might be offended by my naked torso, and then stripped off my t-shirt to give myself a rub down with the wet wipes in an attempt to feel fresher. It did kinda work!
I thought I'd been quite well prepared in the kit-bag department: Water, imodoum, Vaseline (essential to prevent nipple rub), batteries and spare pens. But I was impressed with Chris's wipes and the fact that he'd even brought his own roll of toilet paper! Neil had also brought some deodorant which is always good too to freshen yourself up again late in the afternoon.
And on .. back into Zone 3 and 2 and 1. And into the depths of the underground. West a bit, south a bit, north quite a lot, a reverse round to the east, a double-back here, touching a station there, another and another and another blurred photo (but legible) of a station sign. Snap, snap, snap. Neil came with me whilst Chris made a change to meet us again buying batteries for the camera and more snacks to deliver to us further down the line. A whole Ribena drink was chugged down in thirty-seconds flat, and I still wanted more. I wiped the sweat from my brow, leaving a big black mark of my cheek where the dirt from a door had got on my hand, and now onto my face. 'There's a big black mark all down you' said Neil as droll as ever.. 'Wouldn't have it any other way' I grinned back, smearing my hand down again just to make sure. But I was getting tired. Change change change. Run and connect, and onwards, steps and escalators and people and the smell of the tube, the squeal of the wheels on rails, busy trains, beeping doors, commuters and tourists in the way, copies of the Evening Standard and Metro strewn on seats, tunnels and trains everywhere. The grime of the tube.
I'm starting to lose it. Somewhere overground on the underground. Tube spaghetti. #spwt
At around Ealing Common, I finally had a mini-malaise and lost it a little. It's my local station - home is here. Maybe I wanted to get off, go home, make some tea and collapse on the sofa. All I know is that when Chris asked me a polite question I snapped back at him when I really didn't mean to. We all had a moment where we all said nothing before calmly plotting our next move - Kensington Olympia. But it was also about this time that Garion - the guy who had met us earlier with Sam - sent me a text to ask where I'd be later and at what time if they wanted to meet us again, and it was that that prompted me to work out the time forward in my head, and for the first time that day I realised that we weren't going to beat the record time.
It's just running around on trains. It's ridiculous really. Who really cares whether we make it or not. There are more important issues going on in the world right now, right? What if we took all the time and energy that we put into this, and put it into something else. Something more constructive. What IS the point of doing this?
'We're not going to do it, are we?' I say to Chris. He gives me a totally neutral look back, and starts to form a sentence, but I cut in again before he can speak. 'We're going to get about seventeen hours dead, aren't we? Have you worked it out? You have, haven't you!?'. And he had. Sort of. 'It depends on your Wimbledon/Morden change' he said. And I nodded in agreement, it was going to be close.
Still going. Oh my. It's going to be close ... #spwt
The best on foot run of the day came with doing Kensington Olympia. The whole of the tube carriage stopped reading their books and papers and tuned in to listen to the three of us bicker about if I had enough time to make the run from West Kensington or not. Was my ankle OK? Were we sure about the Olympia departure times? Should we defer it and come back and do it later? In the end, I went for it ... and it was a beauty.
With nine minutes to do it in in the end, I ran, and ran .. and ran .. and .. well jogged, and kept on jogging and surprised myself when I did it the whole thing in seven minutes without stopping. My ankle was holding up - in fact, I couldn't feel any pain at all, and so I kept going, and made the Olympia train with two minutes to spare. It felt good - damn good - I'd got a perfect Mill Hill East, and now a perfect Olympia. It was just that thirteen minute wait at Woodford for the Hainault train that had cost me time.
That great feeling though was quickly lost when it then came to tackling the Wimbledon branch and the southern end of the Northern Line. In previous challenges I'd always used the tram between Wimbledon and Morden, but this time I was going on foot unless a bus came along immediately. Chris and Neil had gone ahead and got such luck when a 131 turned up straight away and did it in six minutes. I was less fortunate - and there were no buses when I got there... and the Countdown display informed me that first bus - a 93 - was in five minutes time, and so I started running.
Somewhere along the way though, I hear the big diesel whine of a bus engine behind me, and I turned to look to see a bus approach and as it doppler-roared on pass down the road in front of me I pointlessly shouted some abuse at it. I didn't see its number and don't know why it hadn't appeared on the display, but it was a connection that could have been quicker - and all I could her in my head were Chris's words of earlier ... 'It all depends on your Wimbledon/Morden connection'. Shit.
At Kennington, the Northern line was atrocious. All day, I had never had to wait (on lines where you expect there to be a frequent service) for more than three minutes. The Northern Line this evening threw me a seven minute wait, and I silently cursed it, along with the many other passengers on the platform. I kinda hated the Northern Line a lot right then.
Even Brixton ... normally reliable enough to give you a thirty second in-and-out "sexy change" [© 2004, G.Marshall] failed to play ball.
When the train pulled in, there was not another one waiting immediately to go out. Instead, there were two drivers having a polite argument about who's turn it was to take what train out. Then a train on the other platform did pull in, and Chris & I asked which one was going to leave first, and they didn't know!
So one of them attempted to use the phone on the platform to call the line controller, but it was out order. 'Well I'm supposed to be on train 230' said one driver to the other 'It must be that one' he said, motioning towards me and the train I was standing in the doorway of.
I spoke up again 'This is 223 though, not 230' and he looked at me, this time seeing my notebook in hand where I'd been writing down trains times all day, and immediately labeled me a trainspotter, and not a potential world-record-breaker. Oh well. 'I'm taking it out anyway' he said 'And changing the number', and so train 223 magically became train 230 at the push of a few buttons in the cab, and we were on out way. But all this cost valuable minutes, time that we simply lost.
I was still working out the time ahead in my head, trying to come up with an estimated time and I was sure it was going to be around seventeen hours - about fifteen minutes after the record time ... but this was still a test day, wasn't it? Just ... one that had gone really well and in spitting distance of the record time. With a few more refinements, it could be a winner, couldn't it? I pressed on. Onto the Circle Line where the driver was just as impatient as me.
Circle line driver is not messing around. Doors open for just 11 secs at last station. I like! #fast #spwt
And to the last change, at Hammersmith where the most memorable part of the day occurred. I'm running into the station from the street. Chris & Neil are inside - Chris on the walkie talkie. But in fact it's not just Chris & Neil - it's a whole gang of people that have now come out to meet me for the last part. Lorna, Vicki, Sam from earlier and Matt and Adham ... a whole slew of friendly faces waiting for me on the last vital change.
I'm dodging the taxis, and running straight out in front other traffic on a red man on the crossing outside the Hammersmith Broadway shopping centre. The entrance is ten seconds away. The barriers I know are another twenty seconds run once inside, and then the steps down to the platform are immediately to the right - another ten seconds.
'TALK TO ME! TALK TO ME!, I'M THIRTY SECONDS OUT!' I shout into the walkie talkie, panting as I say it as I run, dodging another car on the busy junction.
'THERE'S A TRAIN COMING IN NOW!' I hear Chris say back. 'I'M ALMOST THERE!' I shout back and I'm inside the shopping centre, running around a couple kissing each other and jumping over a discarded pile of fast food wrappers being attacked by pigeons.
The barriers are in sight, I hear Chris again as the radio crackles and he says something else, then again something else undecipherable, and then finally ' ... DOORS ... OPEN ... STILL!' are the three words that I can hear amongst the white noise, and the hairs on my leg are up, and my heart is pumping, and I slam my Oyster card onto the yellow pad and run through the barriers perfectly timed only breaking my pace for a moment to allow them to open up in front of me. I look down to see a micro-gap between my weary caucasian legs and the dark grey plastic barriers as they part, and the world seems to go into slow motion for a moment as I then hear a member of station staff shouting at me telling me not to run.
But I don't listen to him, and I don't care at all because I am turning right ... and down the steps, and I look up and ahead and seven expectant faces are all looking at me, shouting at me, welcoming me, energising me the last few paces, drawing me in, and onto the platform, and I dive through the doors into the train where the whole carriage turns to stare at the commotion as I wrap my hands around the grab pole to cut my momentum of throwing myself onto the train, and I swing around like a pole dancer, as I hear the doors beep and 'ssscccchewm' shut, and there's a small cheer as I collapse and hit the floor of the train, and pant and look up ... and Chris grins at me, and I realise that I have made the connection when I really really really really shouldn't have done, and that finally ... yes ... finally ... I .. am .. on .. the last. train. of. the. day.
There are a lot of orange posters pasted up around the Underground at the moment with inspirational quotes from famous people written on them. 'There is more to life than increasing its speed' is an obvious one that stands out and bears relevance to my journey today, from a certain M.Gandhi. And I smile to myself as at that moment I think of it, and come up with my own inside my crazy head.
'On a tube challenge, speed is a necessity'.
On the last train of the day. Whole gang of people have come out to say hello. #spwt
I'm sat on the floor. Sam joins me. Vicki smiles at me. 'Adham!' I shout and hug him as I haven't seen him in five years and I didn't even know he was in London today, and it takes me a moment to remember Matt's name and say hello, and Neil grins at me, as does his lovely wife Lorna, as we sit, stand, and generally feel like a happy unit of people riding home after a Friday night out.
Unity. A gang. A group of happy people. And there suddenly seemed a point to all the madness. There were eight people all sat in that tube carriage - the majority of whom had all only just recently met each other right now on the platform waiting for me. It was a little surreal and yet felt just lovely. And we all knew it. We all felt it. And the best part is that no one had to say it. Suddenly, I wanted to do this everyday and to have a last-train-of-the-day-moment like this that we were experiencing now.
A bottle of water appears from somewhere, I swig. Many times. I steal a packet of bacon crisps from someone, I chew & devour them. Many many times.
And I do the one thing that I've been putting off doing for a while, and I look at my watch, note the time in my book, and knowing how long it takes to get to Acton Town and down and beyond to Heathrow, I work out my arrival time.
Heading for Heathrow. And we've worked out the arrival time, and we think we know the result ...
We're going to make it ...
At Osterley. Heading west. 263/270 #spwt
... with a time of just over seventeen hours.
Which isn't going to beat the record.
Still. It's only a test day, right?
Osterley, the Hounslows, and Hatton Cross. Chris takes photos whilst I still note down the times. I chat to Sam who's sat on the floor next to me. The record is 16 hours and 44 minutes. Her best time (and the previous record) is 17 hours and 2 minutes. I calculate that I'm going to be about 17 hours and 5 minutes. So that would put me in third place on the leader-board? A podium position at the very least? I smile at the thought that there might even be an award for such a stupid thing.
Somewhere between Hounslow West and Hatton Cross we pass the official record time - four stations short. Somewhere during the annoying seven minute wait at Terminal 4 which all trains do now when they stop there before looping round, I pass Sam's time. And I realise that actually we have one more change to make ... at Terminal 123 we have to cross the platform to get the train down to Terminal 5.
Neil lies on the floor. I join him. Someone snaps a photo. Someone has written a cheeky comment on my leg, as well as drawing a tube logo with a pen. The end is very very near now.
It pulls in and we all dutifully climb aboard knowing we haven't made it, and we study the watch and the stopwatch - two independent time sources that you have to have as the train arrives at Terminal 5 and - beep! - We hit stop as the doors open.
It's half past eleven. To be precise, it's 23:30 and 51 seconds, and we started at Chesham that morning at 06:22 and 8 seconds. My total time ... 17 hours, 8 minutes and 42 seconds. Up until December of last year, that would have been a record time.
But now it's just over twenty four minutes behind the record time. And Matt tells me that another team in February of this year had done a run of 17 hours and 7 minutes, thus giving me 'fourth place' in the overall best times.
Chris takes an official photo of me holding up the stopwatch with the time, before we have one final surreal moment. Back in the 'old days' of challenging when it took you the best part of nineteen hours, you had to get to the start point the night before and then struggle to get home at the end. This morning, Chris & I had caught a bus from near my home to Wembley and got the first train up to Chesham to start. Now, at Heathrow, I got the second-to-last train of the day heading back up to London along the Piccadilly Line to Acton Town where we had to run over the steps to make sure that we changed one more time to Ealing Common - my home station.
Yeah, I got the fuckin' tube home again.
And I'm home. There was even time to get the penultimate Piccadilly back up to Acton Town and home. #spwt
Tea was made. Biscuits were eaten. The discussion that was the beginning of the de-brief started. Those thirteen minutes at Woodford? The seven minutes at Kennington? A better bus connection between Wimbledon and Morden? If I was completely fit and run all the way on the on-foot parts? Then what? It would all add up.
Plus we'd had a bunch of other smaller delays that happened during the day as well that didn't seem significant at the time, but now all came flooding back to me. Four minutes on the Central Line at Oxford Circus whilst the British Transport Police investigated an 'incident'. The Northern Line train that sat and waited outside Camden Town with no explanation for two minutes. The Piccadilly Line train I was on that was right behind one that I'd just missed, and therefore got held for an extra thirty seconds at every stop in order to regulate the service. There were a lot of minutes in there, and time that can be made up ... because I wasn't even running all the time, remember? I wasn't really trying. I can run all the way next time - I can get fitter. I can do faster.
This was - after all - just a test day.
Hello, my name is Geoff, and I am 37 years old.
By now some people think that I should be wise and sensible and acting my age by not spending all day running around on tube trains, but they fail to understand one major thing - it's just too much fun.
And fun is good. For if you stop playing, you stop having fun and grow old. And I want to be a young 37 year old - which means I am absolutely going to go out and do this again.
There will be more playing with trains in the future.
Tube 10 statistics:
Stations visited: 270/270
Start time: 06:22.08 Finish time: 23:30.51
Time taken: 17 hours, 8 minutes, 42 seconds
Number of people: 1
Support team: 2, plus others later on
Tube 1 | Tube 2 | Tube 3 | Tube 4 | Tube 5 | Tube 6 | Tube 7 (World Record)
Tube 8 | Tube 9 (Tube Relief) | Tube 10 | Tube 11 | Tube 12 | Tube 13 | Tube 14 | Tube 15 | Tube 16 | Tube 17 | Tube 18 | Tube 19 | Tube 20 | Tube 21 | Tube 22 | Tube 23
My ankle appears to be ok. In fact, bizarrely the slight pain that was there before I ran on it all day has gone - as if by running on it all day, I've worked in back into health somehow. My hamstrings are extremely sore though. Give me a few days to recover and I'll be back out running, training to get myself 100% fit for another attempt.
A side-effect I hadn't bargained for was just how dehydrated my body was afterwards. I'd drunk a lot of water during the day, but on the day after I was thirsty constantly and I drank a lot of vitamin water and lucozade before I eventually felt like my body had caught up and returned to normal.
The Imodium tablets knocked me out for two days. I didn't "sit down" again until Sunday afternoon - a total of about fifty-six hours of no bowel movements.
I calculated afterwards that all the 'on foot' runs between stations totaled up to 7 miles (12 kilometers) of running during the day - that doesn't include any running at interchange stations themselves (which can be quite lengthy). In fact, I'm still amused when I think of the conversation that I had with the guy in the running shop when I'm buy new running shoes and he asks me "What sort of event I'm taking part in". Where do you start with that one? Heh.
I go to work the following day, and I take the Central Line. It is weird getting on a train and not caring how long it takes or having to take a photo. I still instinctively manage to be in the right carriage/door position for the exit at White City - without even trying. This makes me chuckle to myself.
I got twenty-three new followers on twitter, due to re-tweets and #FF's. And one request from someone who I don't know that wants to come with me next time.
My iPhone battery did not die on me because I used Chris's laptop to recharge it at periodic intervals during the day. I also turned off 3G which really saps the power, and did the majority of my twitter updates by sending a good-old-fashioned text message to '86444' instead. If you ever want to extend the battery life on your phone, switch off the 3G functionality for a bit.
@geofftech so did you break it? Hope so. Was following. And then silence. Sounded close. Suspense... :( Cheers T
Tube geeks as well as road ones: @geofftech is Still Playing With Trains, tube challenge tweets: "At osterley. Heading west. 263/270. #spwt"
@geofftech Yo, man! Keep it up! You can do it! And the hallucinations are all rooting for you, too!
thinks @geofftech picked a hot day for the attempt!
@geofftech is a loon, but that's why we love him.
@geofftech Are you normally in and out in 42 seconds when you have an erection?
@geofftech Go geoff go beat the Swedes the whole of Norway - well me - Is behind you #spwt
Hey everyone, @geofftech is doing a Tube Challenge today. So follow him. #spwt #ff
@geofftech How many times are you going to be in Epping!?
@geofftech That's probably the first 9-Zone Day travelcard they've sold since 2005 :) #spwt
@geofftech You kept your tube challenge quiet! Where can we follow it all, aside from Twitter?
@almostwitty He obviously didn't want us to join in! /cc @geofftech
@geofftech Aren't you getting a bit, you know, old for this kinda stuff? #spwt
4th June 2010
The challenge is to travel round all the stations on the London Underground (currently 270 of them) in the fastest time possible. This is a recognised and established world record, that has proper rules and regulations laid down by Guinness World Records. People have been competing for this since 1959.
I'm a two-times World Record Holder for completing this challenge the first time held between 2004-2006, and then again between 2013-2015.