Tube 23 - The One That Broke Before We Awoke

It was supposed to spring. It was supposed to be warmer. It was neither. There was though at least daylight when our day started at Chesham again just before six o'clock for yet another trip around all the tube stations on the network.

The BBC had first got in touch right back at the beginning of the year, as they wanted to know if we could have an attempt on the 10th January - the exact date of the 150th anniversary of the tube. I laughed at them down the phone and said an attempt could not be planned so quickly, but we were already planning one for the spring ... when the weather was warmer .. perhaps they'd like the scoop on that one? And so it was.


Tube Challenger pulls out all the stops in latest record attempt

The BBC News Online (Magazine) section ran their video story of us on the 8th April 2013, it was instantly the most viewed video for that day ... right up until Margaret Thatcher died, that is.

We also cheekily get a brief Station Master plug in, but my favourite part has to be Anthony's quote "Maximum Success!" right at the end where we make a Piccadilly connection at Turnham Green.

BBC Marquee



The usual crew were up and out for this one, with one exception - Richard who normally would of come with me, couldn't make it, so it was just me & Anthony going for the record. Chris ran mission control with Matt & Kate working their excellent point duties as usual, oh and I had a mini video camera with me too to record some clips. The man from the BBC was as well at the start to see us off, but amusingly his taxi got him to Chesham so early, he was in time to see another couple of people also starting the challenge but on an earlier train. "You'll never guess what we're doing!" they said to him, whereas he knew full well what was going on, and didn't let on he was waiting for us.

Geoff and AnthonyThe first couple of hours whizzed by perfectly. Train change, train change, train, connection, here, there, run, change, yup yup yup - all super slick, sooo super slick in fact that It seemed like I didn't really have to to have the usual niggling worry in the back of my head of "What if something breaks or goes wrong", which is usually what I'm thinking, but for some reason wasn't this time. Which is why when news came through that something was wrong with the Central Line - just as we were approaching it and couldn't re-route - that I felt more annoyed about it than ever.

Stuck at Ealing Broadway. The morning peak. Commuter time. And a whole load of other passengers are talking to me about if I know when the train is going to leave. Anthony and myself had wandered up to the front of a train that was clearly not leaving from the platform anytime soon, and got chatting to the driver to find out what was going on. This in turn meant that other commuters on the train saw us as the people to ask what was going on, which was that down the line at Queensway, there had been a major signal failure and the whole of the Red Route through the middle of London was ballsed up..

I called Chris to see what our options were. There were no options. We just had to stick around and see what would happen with the Central and hope it got fixed soon. Eventually, after about 15 minutes of waiting, we did get the all clear to go - and we went along ... all of one stop to West Acton where we were told that we would be held again for an unknown amount of time - brilliant.

West Acton is a local station known to me - I jog straight past it when out on my weekly evening runs, and I suggested to Anthony that we bailed and get on a bus that was coming. We did, and make it to another station elsewhere a few stops away where we had to wait only a minute for a train that whisked us away from the affected Central Line area. But the damage was already done, the failure has already put us back by many minutes, and I already knew that we would not have a record time.

I'd promised the BBC that we'd carry on to the end even if there was a foul up which meant that we had to carry on. I told Chris that if it wasn't for them, I'd consider quitting. We managed thought somehow to get ourselves to a point where we were 'only' 20 minutes down on schedule, so Chris reasoned that we could still come in somewhere on the 'same train' as the current record holder of about sixteen and a half hours - but that was with two stations missed which we'd have to squeeze in later. It did not look good.

It also meant re-routing to go a different way than we'd vaguely planned to go. It was only a couple of hours later at about 11 o'clock that we realised that we might now be following the same route as the 2009 record holder. This became relevant when we saw (and as we ran past) one of the recently installed Labyrinth artworks - which have are numbered in sequence on the 2009 record-holding-route.

At around midday my parkrun buddy Mark came out to see us and stayed with us for several hours. I'd dubbed him my 'physio' for the day, as he made sure that Anthony and I got a lot of stretches in between runs, as well as taking on board some energy gels. On previous challenges my legs always felt sore at the end of the day, but on this one they held out - all thanks to Mark.

The day was a cold one - you might have heard that we're experiencing one of the coldest March's on record, but I still insisted on wearing just my running top and nothing else apart from my gloves and hat. Anthony kept adding and stripping layers depending on how warm he was feeling.

As with previous challenges where we've torn up the route and got a bit cavalier about how we were doing things, so we did with today. in total, we got five buses (albeit going in certain directions) that I'd never got before - including the once every half an hour U10 - and ran along three sections of road that I'd never done before either. One of them definitely got us a train back up on the Northern Line ... that four minutes gained, but it wasn't enough to get us a whole train up at Mill Hill East which is where we were headed for next, so that time gained was negated on the shuttles every-15-minutes service. It just meant we had more time to use the toilets at Finchley Central.

As our normal route had changed, our 'KFC at Morden' dinner drop changed, and instead turned into a 'Burger King drop' at a Zone 1 station around tea-time, where a new addition to our #spwt team, our friend Kirk came out to meet us.

Shortly after, as the evening approached we had to head for the Central Line again, hoping that it had recovered from the drama of the failure this morning, and although we were told that there was a 'Good Service', in reality there wasn't. First there was a five minute wait at a packed Tottenham Court Road station where we had to force ourselves on amongst other commuters who didn't want us on their already full train - a five minute gap at the height of the peak is not good.

And it was rammed - properly rammed - "A 10 out of 10 on the commuter scale!" I said to Anthony, who gave me a quizzical look. "Oh I have not explained this before? Allow me...", and I went into detail how if you get on a tube carriage and it's empty (making you the only person in it), then it's a '1', '5 ' is the halfway point where the seats run out and people have to start to stand and '10' is when it's so rammed you're close enough to be able to kiss the person standing next to you and you're totally invading their personal space.

At this point, a lovely lady who was invading my personal space whilst I'd been explaining all this to Anthony chuckled and joined in with the conversation. "No, this is only a 9!" she said. "10 is where it's so full you can not be holding onto anything and yet you don't fall over because it's so squashed", and I had to admit that she had a point. We were on a '9', and not a '10' in terms of a crushed carriage.

On we went in the train that got slowly less crowded as we got away from the centre of town. We changed somewhere, knocked out a station and came back to the Central Line, in time to catch our Hainault Loop train ... only to find that the trains were out of order, and it had ran two minutes early and we'd missed it - at the time that a Hainault train was scheduled, an Epping train rolled in instead which we forced to get, except it then got held outside of Epping station, whilst not one, but both trains came out, meaning that we missed the second one out which would have connected us back down at Woodford for the loop train going in the opposite direction. As it was, we missed it and it meant a fifteen minute wait - more time lost.

Everyone gathered in the waiting room at Woodford to stay out of the cold. I was now very angry and frustrated by this time, and got a little bit agitated. Some of them team told me 'Sssh' as I perhaps got a little too vocal with my frustration.

I couldn't help but be angry though, because once again it had all broken on a day when we really didn't want it to. I recalled the other minor incidents of the day - how we'd been held on the Jubilee Line earlier and missed a connection we should have got, how a Northern Line train had dithered outside a terminus station and cost us time ... all those little bits adding up to missed connections and lost time.

And because of all of this - there was one station we didn't even manage to visit. Kensington Olympia is the pain the arse station which requires careful strategy and planning to fit into your day. We' d been planning to visit it in the evening, but the mess up of the Central Line meant that we were running so late now, there was no hope of going there. So it would be for 269 stations, not 270 - Olympia missed, yet again.

I do despair sometime at my rotten luck. That I could do this two to three times a year for the rest of my life that I'm able to, and never get a day when there's truly a 'Good Service' and nothing breaks when we don't want it to. I did a count up of all the challenges we've done since 2010 onwards (Tube 10 to Tube 23 is fourteen in total), and only on two of those occasions was there not a problem with the tube that screwed us over.

In the build up to doing the attempt, I did some filming at Sudbury Town station where I'd got to meet someone from the TfL Press Office. They didn't have to be explicit in saying it, so I read between the lines to well enough from what they were saying to realise (obviously) that this isn't really an activity that keen to condone. To which I constantly think "Well if we just had a day when the network didn't fail on us ... I wouldn't keep having to attempt it!".

Yeah. If only the system didn't break. Which it does. A lot.

So the day wore on, and the BBC man made us sing the Grange Hill theme tune as we went through that station (and generally got excited about going round the loop as he'd never it before) and Anthony and I got chatting to a woman on the Piccadilly Line who could recite (without looking) all the stations on the line in order 'because I rode it everyday to go to school for six years' and thus knew them like the back of her hand., she made me smile which I liked.

We mopped up the last few stations with relative ease, and even managed to make a Heathrow 4 train before the one we thought we were going to get ("Maximum Success!" shouted Anthony in the video) to make up ten minutes of time, but it was still going to be a bad overall time.

At Hammersmith Kate brought us a round of teas, followed by Mark at Turnham Green who popped home earlier and then came out again to bring us more tea in a flask - excellent! And so on the way down to Heathrow, there was much fun chat and photos as everyone came together for the last leg of the day and the final few stations to the end.

We later found out from some people in the know that the the signal problem at Queensway this morning had actually occurred before the start of traffic, very early in the morning, but simply wasn't fixed before the rush hour. "So it broke even before we awoke" said Chris. Thus naming the day, and summing up all our feelings.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. We have a record-breaking route, have done for the last two years now, but we just need a day when the system doesn't fall apart. Luck with that, it seems - is not on our side.

Which means we'll be doing it again. Tube 24 will happen at some point later in the year.


Tube 23 stats

Stations visited: 269/270 [Olympia missed]
Start time: 05:56.11 Finish time: 23:21:08
Time taken: 17 hours, 24 minutes, 57 seconds
Number of people: 2
Support team: Several

Previous attempts:

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 | Tube 24 | Tube 25 (Second World Record)


Tube 23

28th March 2013

The Tube Challenge

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.

History & Other Challengers
Media Appearances
Zone 1 Only
The Official Rules
Underground Facts & Figures