Tube 25 : The One That's Going to be Hard to Beat

Friday August 16th 2013 - And confirmed as the new Guinness World Record on Thursday 19th September 2013.

TFL SignIt's getting hard to think of new interesting ways to writeup a challenge. It's getting hard to write an opening sentence that isn't similar one I've already used. It's getting hard to keep going and going and wondering whether 'This is going to be the time or not' that we do this, or would it be another day of failure.

As it turned out - this was going to the one that was going to be hard to beat.

I'm glad I've documented these challenges though. I'm glad I've given them all names and numbers and written them all up into long reports - some over 10,000 words - as over time it's hard to remember what things happened on what ones as you repeat a lot of the same runs and connections, and with this being our fifteen attempt in three years, they were all starting to blur into one another.

For example we ran to Rayners Lane like we normally do - and it was just like any other time we ran it, coming up the hard hill part waiting for crackle of the radio of Matt on the walkie talkie telling us if there's a train pulling in or not. Our third run of the day on our 'regular' route which is near to where I live, normally I wouldn't mind but we've just done our second run of the day, and yet here we are sprinting off with no handy train (there never is) to take us back in the direction that we want to go. The first change in the middle of the Zone 1 area which can be full of commuters if our timing was unlucky, just 30 seconds in it to connect to the train we want which on a previous occasion - we've missed, but this time it's running a few seconds late, and we make it with time to spare.

But it's about midday when we enter the Hainault Loop, that I think I have the first thought of the day, that actually - nothing has gone wrong so far, nothing has failed - and as before, I don't want to say it out loud in case I jinx it, but in my head I know it .. "It's going really well", I tell myself.

Me & Anthony who are running it (Richard couldn't make it this time) are on the Central Line , and I think because we all know it's going really well, we do that thing where no one talks about it - so we're talking about anything else instead. In this instance - Chris's wedding.

When Chris had got married last year, we'd challenged him to get the name of a tube station into his speech. The next day - he told us - he remembered that far from finding it difficult, he'd actually thought of a whole load of ways of doing it, and he was happy to rattle off some of them for us now ...

"For example", said Chris - the photographer said he wanted to take some photos ... so we went and took some in the wedding Archway. Then we took some in the Aldgate. "I want to do MoorGate pictures" said the photographer.

We were talking about cars for the wedding, and I said "I want some cars for the wedding. WoodFord help? suggestion someone. We realised that we could have a GreenFord car if we wanted"

We got their on the day, parked up, "Can't Park there" "Why not" "That's where the Canons Park"

"It that more than enough, or can you Stan More?". No traditional wedding, as along as it's not a White Chapel.

The conversation get exceedingly silly over the new few stops - the puns are getting worse and worse. Until I declare that some stations on the tube map would just be impossible to make a pun out of. "Like what?" asks Anthony.. "Like Dundonald Road on the tram link!" i tell him. I really shouldn't have.

"So ... the other day, I was on boating lake with Donald for some time. I was rowing at first, but it was quite tiring. When I was Dundonald Road".

There is a groan of approval all around the tube carriage. Well - you know, 'the tube carriage' being just me and Chris. Not a lot of people travel around the Hainault Loop in the middle of the day.

Epping TeaAnd thus our time all the way to Epping was passed.

Out of Epping - where we were worried that we might not make our scheduled train, but had over a minute to make the connection in the end, I skipped down the steps as we crossed over on the footbridge, and I considered that we were going to leave on schedule and things were really going well.

We'd even scooped up an extra 'bonus' station earlier that wasn't really part of the plan, meaning that was going to save us time later. So far - it was looking to be a good time, we just just to keep calm, keep going, and stay on course for the record.

This is of course the London Underground we're talking about it, meaning that at anytime, something could unexpectedly go wrong ...

It's two o'clock exactly when my iPhone beeps with a message and I glance down to look at it. "The Piccadilly is suspended - fire alert at Russell Square" says Chris.

Fuuuuck it. I looked up at the tube map of the carriage that we were in and worked out how long it would be until we would hit the Piccadilly as per our current plan ... in about an hours time I reckoned. Would it have started moving again by then? Would we benefit from a late running train? Or would there be no trains at all and yet again we'd be screwed over on a challenge. I fired up my Tube Live app to check and saw that - yup, no trains were moving on the central section of the Piccadilly, they were all being held whist the fire alert was investigated.

We made our way out of town, made a foot and bus connection to then come back into Zone 1 where after a couple of changes we headed for the Piccadilly. "Minor Delays" said the official TfL feed by now, which could mean anything really in terms of whether you got a train or not. We ran down to the platform ... train in 2 minutes! We'll take that, and we did, it didn't muck around either, and even though from the set number we could tell it was a train badly out of sync, it didn't matter to us as it whisked us along at the correct pace, to where we wanted to be next, and after a doing two connections that I'd never done before on a tube challenge, and knocking out an awkward station in a way that I'd never done before on a challenge either, we headed to do the tube stations south of the river.

Brixton, Morden and Wimbledon (listed alphabetically, I'm not saying we did them in that order) worked just fine, in one place we even had the luxury of a six minute wait where we stood around wondering if we should have made better use of the time, after which the 32 'southies' were soon knocked out, no problem. Mark even showed up as he'd done on the last time out, and provided us pizza again - much needed, thanks mate.

We followed our standard route, with the benefit of having knocked out those two awkward stations earlier - so that we didn't have to do them now, and we were soon trundling along on our least favourite line to another extremity of the map.

It was about now that I spoke to Chris, looked at the time, checked out schedule and there was that small moment again - this time where we looked at each other waiting to see if the other was going to mention it - where we both knew without saying it that it was going well. Really well. Which usually means that something was going to go wrong - wasn't it?

7pm and I think we got a slice of luck (deserved, I reckon) when we were 2 minutes out from our connecting station and Chris calls to tell me that there's a train 'in 1 minute, and then 4'. "We'll never make the 1 minute one", I'll tell him. "Pity" says Chris "As that'll in effect put you on train ten minutes up further on". I didn't really think of it, as the conversation of how long we were going to be (60 seconds), took 60 seconds, and the train is pulling into the platform so I shout "Train pulling in NOW! See you in 30!", and we were off and running, and huffing, and puffing. It's a 45 second run (within a station) and I think we did it quicker. Chris is standing there with a big smile on his face - pointing at the train which is approaching the station. "4 minute one?" I as, catching my breath. "No" he says beaming, "The one minute one", and we just LOOK at each other, direct eye-to-eye contact both knowing what this probably means. For the first time in the day, the glow in our eyes told the whole story to each other without having to say it - if nothing went wrong from this point on, we were on for a record time.

And on we went, from that point sticking to our usual route, getting past the sticky point where we had been held for 2 minutes last time on a line where you can be held if the train in front is going into the depot - no such delay today and we whizzed through, on time, and again onto our next connecting station.

Slowly, chunk by chunk of the map, we were knocking parts out, not being delayed, and the more that that happened - the more our chances were increasing that we were going to do it.

At five to nine in the dark streets of West London, we're running on foot again to a connection that we don't normally do this way - in fact, as I run it, I'm trying to think if I've ever run it this way on a challenge, and I don't think I have. We're in, with a minute to spare, the train pulls in, Chris is on it, we reverse a few stops down the line, and then - with under two hours to go and the end in sight, we find ourselves at Edgware Road.

As we pull in, I look across at the two platforms where a train could be waiting on either to take us out - and they're both empty! Shit, this is not a good sign. Surely not. Surely not now with over 14 hours into the day is it going to fall apart, is it. Is it?

Most regular commuters know how the Circle Line is notoriously bad, I've even been told by staff who told me never to name them that the Circle Line is the 'poor mans tube line' where services get pulled if there's a problem with another line and they need the trains or drivers to concentrate on keeping that running to time.

So I'm on the phone to Chris - berating the service - when at one minute before the train is already supposed to be leaving, it crawls slowly oh sooo slooooowly into the platform at Edgware Road. "OK!" i say, my voice picking up "This could still be on!", and ask Chris what time our connection is to the Richmond train at Earl's Court. I make a mental of note if it, and then backwards calculate when our train needs to leave in order to make it. Oh. Yeah. It needs to leave now - like really now, on time please.

Except it doesn't leave straight away - because the driver is at the other end. The driver who we watch, slowly get out of his cab, slowly shut down his end of the train, and slooowly walk down the platform, stopping to chat to someone on the way, and all the while the signal has gone green at this end, and when he finally trudges up clutching his tea flash, and it's now almost 4 minutes past the time that he was booked to leave at.

Irritatingly, he then spend another 30 seconds which obviously dragged on forever, opening up and faffing about with the controls at his end, until finally the doors beep, and Anthony looks at me not daring to ask but asking with his facial tones and trying to tell from my facial response where it's on or not. I just stare back at him in deadlock until I finally relent and in a mono-sollabic tone just say "Four and a half minutes late", as we (slowly) pull out of Edgware Road.

Now for our route, we're obviously not going to tell anyone or reveal it in its entirety, but as the press photos of us show us at Heathrow Terminal 5 late on in the day, we can't deny that we finished there. And that's all we had left to do as we left Edgware Road - get a Richmond train, double back then up to the Piccadilly again, and finish on a Heathrow service to take us to the end of the day. "Simples", as I believe the popular vernacular goes.

We shouldn't of made the Richmond train at Earl's Court. We really shouldn't. Our train had needed to depart Edgware Road on time, and it hadn't, and so even writing this up now several weeks later, I'm still not entirely sure how what happened next, happened.

As we pulled into Platform 4 at Earl's Court, there is a train on the adjacent platform, and I immediately have bad images of the doors closing on us just as we run across to catch it. But instead, there is Chris and others of the #SPWT crew, looking calm. "S'okay - Richmond train is next" says Chris. Huh? What? I am very confused. Very very confused as to how we have made it, but I am so tired, drained, and expended most of my emotions throughout the day already, I can't really think about it. I just know that it came in next about a minute later, and without any fuss, set off and Chris told me that we would make Richmond on time, no problems.

We glide into Richmond one minute at 10 o'clock and something minutes, but it's okay because we have a two minute turnaround here - Matt is waiting for us anyway - so in the 60 seconds we have spare we walk down the platform and get into the carriage that we want to be at. And bang on time - as per our schedule - the beeps signal, the air pressure comes on, and the doors 'schhhhooom!' shut, and we have left. On time. With the end, now very much in sight.

And this time, I look at my watched, look up at Anthony and Matt, and with no one saying anything, my lips try to make the shape of a smile, as they think they know what's coming.

We all know what's coming. All of us. But no one's saying it.

There's a couple more changes after Richmond, and they all pass off without a hitch, and as a few more of team #SPWT gather together to form a larger group, we all acknowledge each other and smile - but still no one is saying it.

By Acton Town, EVERYONE is out, and there's seven of us - in one carriage - actually on a Heathrow 5 train. And someone says "We mustn't forget to change at Hatton Cross" and we laugh, and chat and joke and smile ... but there is one very obvious conversation that we're not having which is conspicuous by its absence. NO ONE dares say it.

At that moment though - I get a heavy feeling sinking in. What if it broke now? Now on the way down to Heathrow. What if the service broke right at the end of the day? That would soul destroying.

I think others were thinking it too - but one wanted to say anything, at all, to jinx anything. It was a welcome relief when a stroppy station supervisor told Matt off at Hatton Cross for taking photos "Which isn't allowed", when of course it is - it's just flash photography that isn't allowed, and we all bitched about him behind his back as he and his jobs-worthy attitude shuffled off down the platform.

At Hatton Cross, Chris went ahead and waited for us at T123, whilst me and Anthony went round to T4 to go round the loop. And still no one said anything. No one wanted to say it. No one wanted to be the one to say it first - just ... in case. In the fifteen attempts that I'd made since making record attempts since 2010, was it finally all going to fall in place? Finally? At ... blinking .. last!

There was another excruciating agonising moment. We got the train to Terminal4 where it is scheduled for an 8-minute stand, before starting off in service again. During that time, the driver goes to get a tea or goes to the toilet, and the signal had clearly gone green, and the time that he should have departed at had passed as the train still hadn't moved. I looked out of the train down the platform and could see the driver casually sauntering back to his cab.. and finally, 90 seconds after he should have departed on the train, we finally moved.

That was painful, because any later and we would have missed the connection at Terminal 123, for the train to take us down to T5 (Later I found that when the record stood at around 17 hours and 20 minutes, this happened to someone else previously and they would have had a record of 17:12, but instead the driver was lazy and late they missed the connection and they got a time of 17:22 instead - RIGHT at the end of the day, on the last train it all went wrong for them - utterly galling).

I started to imagine the pain of what that might feel like. To be at T4, knowing you're minutes away from a fastest every time, but in the last change of train of the day, a driver with a bladder that he has to empty causes that train to run late, and you failed to make a fast time because of that connection. It didn't bear thinking about ...

Round the loop. Into T123, where I looked nervously across as the train was slowly down and Chris was there, and we paced over. 2 minutes to a T5 train - that's nice, that might even be running a little early actually. And now everyone was there, gathered, waiting for it to come in, and we all stood there actually quite silently, knowing what should be about to happen.

It came out on the train between the last two stops Chris produced his stopwatch and we all gathered to look at it. A couple of people started to video it, and I made some crap speech to camera about previous attempts, and the previous record from 2004 - and how it was nine years on.

"Gentlemen... take your places please!" as the train started to slow down to enter the last station, and Anthony & I hovered by the door. And I nervously put my fingers to my bottom lip, still not quite believing that in a few seconds time when those doors opened and I put my foot on the platform, it was all finally going to fall into place.

Anthony actually got out the train first for once (normally I bustle in for first place), but this time I was quite relaxed about it. Maybe disbelieving. I remember seeing Kate there taking photos, and onto the platform all I wanted to do was put my stuff down (logbook, phone, etc...) in case I went a bit weird and dropped it all. Instead, I turned around with my hands over my face chuckling to myself I saw Anthony gave him a bug hug and lifted him into the air and he laughed.

Chris came over and joined us, holding up the stopwatch and showing the final time to me - 16:20.27 and as his wife Charlottle came over I pointed at her and said "We. Don't. Ever. Have to do this again!", smiling and laughing, aware of how much of Chris's time this has consumed (as it had everyone's) over the past few years.

More hugs, more smiles, high fives and jubilation, and everyone in team #SPWT was there except for Richard, who we sent a text to ,and then gathered for some nice group photos.

My overall feeling though was one that I knew it was going to take a while to sink in, and that of course it wasn't official until it had been approved by Guinness.

Keep Calm and Break the RecordWe submitted a fast track claim to Guinness World Record a couple of weeks later, yet it still took them over a week to process it.

Finally, whilst I was sitting on a tube platform (Angel) checking my email using underground WiFi on the dull Thursday evening of September 19th, my inbox finally 'pinged' with the confirmation that we'd been waiting for - we were World Record holder.

We hit the press the following week on the Monday (23rd), and even set up a new website for it all where we posted a load of stuff - including the video that I'd been working on for months, having it ready in the sidelines, hoping .. waiting .. that one day it could get uploaded and viewed by everyone - and finally, it could.

The whole thing wouldn't have been possible without the whole team on this and previous attempts. That's me, Anthony and Richard for doing it. Chris for the route, Kirk for the computer wizardry. To Matt & Kate for being excellent point people and supply people, and to Vicki for being a constant support throughout.

Thanks guys - thanks to you you all - we finally did it.





Stations visited: 270/270
Start time: Undisclosed
Finish time: Undisclosed
Starting station: Undisclosed
Finishing station: Heathrow Terminal 5
Total time taken: 16 hours, 20 minutes, 27 seconds
Completed the challenge: Geoff Marshall & Anthony Smith
Support: Chris Green and the rest of Team #SPWT: Matt, Kate, Vicki, Kirk and Richard.

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 (World Record) | Tube 26 | Tube 27 | Tube 28


Tube 25

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