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The One Year Older Than Last Time

Tube 11- 3rd September 2010

Hello. I am now 38 years old. A whole year older than the last time I did this. How did that sneak up on me?

Between the time of the last attempt back in June, and today's attempt my birthday has come and gone. Which means that although it's only been exactly twelve weeks between attempts, there's a whole new digit in the right hand column of my age, and that '7' ticked over into an '8', and mentally there's a voice in my head saying "You're not getting any younger ... are you sure you still want to be doing this?"

Tube 11Far from all the physical aspects of feeling older, there's all the mental stress too.

Since my return to England and the beginning of the year I've been wondering about that 16 hours and 44 minutes record time. It does seem bloody fast, and when I first plotted a new route - I couldn't get it down to any faster than seventeen and a half hours. How on earth was I supposed to come close to getting that record time back? I despaired a little.

Other people's friendly comments don't help either. "I don't think you'll ever beat it again you know", is the voice of my colleague Declan at work, who gave me that judgment right after reading up on my previous attempt. "Sixteen hours and forty four minutes? That's really fast. It's not going to happen" were his encouraging words - to which I would defiantly reply "Yes we can, it's beatable", whilst secretly in the back of my head I'm left wondering if it really is.

So two main things happened since last time. Firstly, myself and Chris (a wizard with a working timetable) sat down and tweaked the route some more. Made some small changes here, realised a couple of new possibilities there, and we went out to test parts of them to see how they held up.

Secondly, I'd been out running more - slowly getting fitter over the last twelve weeks since we last did this, to try and make up times on some of those daunting runs. Making a run thirty seconds faster could mean getting a connection that would you lead to you getting another connection - and so on. It's the difference between getting the record time, and missing out.

I've been wondering about when my body is going to give up on me. I'm getting paranoid about getting old. All those twenty-somethings that are running about doing it, they're fine! They have no real idea what it's like to have thirty-something muscles in your legs. And yet ... well I know people that are still running in their fifties! So how hard can it be? I'm good to go with this for at least another decade then, aren't I?

Ideally, we'd like to know that we can come in at under 17 hours. Sub-seventeen times are rare, and managing one of those will certainly show that you have a route. On paper, ours came in a 16 hours and 37 minutes ... but that's paper, not reality. Out attempt would road test it for real. Oh, and 'Road test' !? Surely that should be railtest.

So we set a date. We booked our annual leave at work, and on Friday September 3rd 2010, we were out doing it all over again, on the tube.


My first tweet of the day reflects my strangely awake-but-should-be-asleep-state. I'm not sure if it was Chris's snoring or my own excitement that had kept me awake, but I couldn't nod off. We went to 'bed' at about 11pm but it took until about 1am for me to vaguely fall asleep, briefly waking at 2am and at 3.30am again too. Finally the alarm went at 4 - waking me proper -and making me feel like I'd very definitely only had three hours of bad sleep.

We go through the motions of getting up - no need for showering as I'd done that the last night the night before, and am already wearing my clothes for the day - so no need to get dressed either. A quick coffee, some fruit, slug down those immodium tablets and a final check on the kit: logbook, pens, stopwatch, camera, water and a District Line working timetable, and we're good to go.

There's a sense of déjà-vu as we're at the bus stop again waiting for the 83 to roll in. I tweeted almost exactly as I did last time. This time though - and worryingly - there are several other people about - there weren't last time - and we talk to them to discover that the previous bus didn't turn up and they're pondering if any bus will come at all. I tell Chris that if no bus has arrived by 04.45 then we'll hot-foot it down to Ealing Broadway Station and catch a cab up to Wembley Park instead. But just then, the bus rolls in ... panic over.

It was light last time we were here back at the height of summer in June, strangely though although it's dark now it feels warmer than it was. The fact that I'm wearing my fleece jacket this time has probably got something to do with that though.

Matt and GeoffAlso, this time on the challenge it's not just Chris and me. An old acquaintance - Matt - who's one and only time around the system was back on TubeRelief day back in 2005 is also tagging along. A last minute request on twitter by me yesterday for anyone to join me resulted in him saying 'yes!', and so having not seen him in five years, we're waiting for him at the station entrance, time ticking away.

But he makes it by 05.30, and we casually stroll down to get the first train up, which actually leaves early. We all exchange nervous glances at each other - missing the first train up to start would not have been a good way to kick off a record attempt.

The journey up gives me time to strap up my ankle with my support bandage - it hasn't been causing me problems recently, but i'm taking no chances. Vaseline between the toes and on the balls of my feet to prevent blisters, and a little on my nipples too - no nasty t-shirt rubbing whilst I'm on the runs today please. I also get so absent mindedly lost in the chatter between the three of us that I almost eat the whole of breakfast - an entire banana - without stopping halfway though as I normally do.

As Chalfont & Latimer, some familiar faces get on. Sam and another Matt - we'll call him Matthew to avoid confusion - two other challengers that we know, and their friend Al get on board. They've driven and parked here and joined the same train as us to start at Chesham. There had been been banter during the week when we discovered that we'd both be having an attempt on the same day, and there's a fair amount of talk - all friendly - about who may finish first. I realise that there's now three things to play for : A possible world record, beating my own personal best, and beating Sam & Co. it's going to be a fun day.

I could have had a decent nights sleep, a lie in, a leisure breakfast and be on my second cup of tea of the day on my day off by now. Why aren't I doing that? This will definitely be the last time I do this.

Well, apart from the next date for doing it that I've already got in mind, that is.


TwitterIt seems you can't do a tube challenge without tweeting about this days. Both Chris and Matt in my time were doing updates, and Sam and Matthew (but not Al) in the other team were too, as well as their support man, Tom.


We have a group photo taken on the bench at Chesham. The also-obligatory photo of us holding up a copy of that morning's 'Metro' is taken, and then we're on the train, waiting to depart, waiting to start, waiting to go the whole crazy day all over again.

Sam and the other team liked our hashtag so much, that they stole it! ... and adapted it, and for most of the day, I saw their tweets tagged with #aptw - also playing with trains!

I look around the carriage at the commuters on the train at this time of the morning. One guys gives me a funny look. Do I recognise him from last time? Does he recognise me? Is this his normal daily commute train into central London, and is he fed up of seeing wide-eyed-challengers starting on his bleary-eyed train. Do the locals of Chesham ever sit in the pubs and talk about us? "I saw another bunch of those sad tube people this morning", I can imagine a conversation might go like that down their local pub later tonight.

So I look out of the train windows instead, the single track line from Chesham down to Chalfont is a seven minute journey - the longest distance between two station on the whole of the Underground network - and a most scenic one too. Trees and fields, suburban houses with their pretty back gardens. I look back in the carriage and look at everyone immersed in their old world of chat, food, drink, timetables, newspapers or fiddling with their phones. And I just think "Here I am ... again .... why?".

There's still no answer to this question. There's still no reasoning for why we all do this. We just .. do it.

To Chalfont and change, to Amersham and turnaround, to the first maybe connection of the day at Moor Park to take us up to Watford, and everything is running to time. It seems almost churlish to tweet that everything is running well at this point, because you would expect things to be running well at this point. I tweet anyway.

Warming UpAt Rickmansworth, my former tube-challenging buddy Neil and his wife Lorna get on the train. This is Lorna's normal train to work in the morning, and Neil has come out to join us a little bit for the ride.

I talk to Matt about how fit he is and how capable of running he is. "I'm not in bad shape", he insists. "I am worried that you might get ahead of me though and leave me behind". Secretly though (and I don't tell him), I'm worried that the reverse may happen - what if he gets ahead of me and leaves me behind? I say nothing, and suggest that we stretch properly to warm up our legs.

We get funny looks as we go through the motions. At one point, I lie flat on my back and press one of my legs 90 degrees up in the air against a pole to stretch it out properly, but we have to do it ... we're both in our late thirties. Running now and running all day without stretching would not be wise, and stretching feels good anyway. Chris smiles at us, and Neil snaps a photo.

At West Harrow we leave a station for the first time on the day. Or at least I attempted to ... the gate beeps at me and rejects my ticket for some reason, and I have to jump over the ticket barrier to get out - seriously. This happened last time we were here too - and having paid almost seventeen quid for an all-zone-all-day-travelcard it makes you want to swear at it. So I push hard down on my hands each side of the barriers, and hurdle over it, and I am out and running out of the station.

I turn to look back to make sure Matt has made it - he has - and I also see Sam ,Matt & Al shout "We're going the other way!", as I thought that they might be running to the same station as we were running to - but they're not, they're going to the other possibility. It's the last time we'll see them all day until the end - shame, as it would have been fun to bump into them somewhere halfway round.

We're running down the the road and up to the halfway point Matt is keeping pace with me ... albeit a few metres behind me. But as I near the station and there's a slight incline on the road, I look back to see that he's stopped running, and is walking up looking a little out of breath. I check my watch - the train is due now, and I'm still thirty seconds from the station, shit! I keep running.

As i approach the entrance Chris crackles through on the walkie talkies to tell me that it's approaching but it isn't it yet, but i run anyway into the station, barriers and down onto the platform. Oh. It's still half a minute away - must have been a minute when Chris called it, I might have time to go back and get Matt.
I run the steps again, back to the barriers and out onto the street looking for him. Shit! Where is he? He wasn't that far behind, was he? "TRAIN'S IN! WHERE ARE YOU?", calls Chris on the radio and I realised I have to run back in and onto the train.

"Where is he?" asks Chris "Couldn't see him, I'm sure he was right behind me!" as we get onto the train, leaning back out the doors to see if he's coming - but he's not in sight. The doors beep - and Chris jumps off as he's not coming with me, and I stay on wondering what the hell happened to Matt. First run of the day, and we're already a man down, oops.

I adopt my 'crash out and recover on the floor' position - quite early for me, and write times in the log book, and scratch my nose. And again, and then again. Ooh, my nose is really tingling and itchy - why's that?

The next leg of the journey is without incident, but I am feeling guilty that so early on I've managed to leave Matt behind on a run. I try and send him a text message but there is now no coverage on my phone - stupid thing. Not just 3G coverage, but any kind of coverage. Tweeting today is coming courtesy of just sending a traditional old text message to Twitter's '86444' number. I've actually turned off 3G on my phone, and Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, AND turned the brightness down quite a bit as well - I'm going to make my iPhone battery last as long as I can today.

So the great thing about our newly re-worked route is that it's really great. Oh, yeah. That much is obvious. The thing that isn't so great about it is that you don't really have time to recover (like, literally .. get your breathing levels back to normal) before you have to go off and do another similar six minute run again towards the Central Line.

I couldn't help but think though that even though poor Matt got left behind on the first run that even if he HAD of just made it, it would have killed him and he probably wouldn't have made the second run. Several weeks of running and trying to stay in shape (with an unwarranted interruption in between) though, seemed to be paying off - and at the beginning of the run, I questioned my fitness and my ability to make it, and in the end, I made it with over a minute to spare. Sorted.

Everyone is looking at me. Everyone on this train is going to work except me. Everyone wants to know who I am and what I'm doing. I want to scream at them to tell them to get their noses out of their 'Metros' and do something fun instead, but I can't. I will leave them in peace and let them traverse their regular commute down their familiar path to their desk job in the city.

The central line carriage is full of on-their-way-to-work commuters, and I stand there panting and sweating, looking terribly out of place.

It's not until I change again and lose the commuters that the next train becomes more empty that I get a mental hold on what time it is, and knowing what time I need to arrive at my next destination to make my next change and run, realise that my train is running four minutes late - which could be quite essential for making my connection further up the line. Again - shit.

Shit was something that I thankfully didn't have to do right then, but the urge to wee suddenly hit upon me out of nowhere. I was hoping I could at least hold until I got to my first change station with toilets, but it wasn't to be - I had to go.

There was one person up the far end of the carriage with me. Looking into the next carriage there was more than one person - so it had to be this one. I have an empty bottle in my bag for such an emergency, but I spy another bottle discarded on the floor already and decide to use that instead. I casually wander up the other end of the carriage from the woman, crouch down in the corner, and fill it up. Ahh! Relief.

There's time to call ahead to Chris to find that Matt is with him, and he's decided to stick around for the rest of the day and help out on the support side of things - nice man! Except that Matt isn't with him at this exact moment, because Chris has gone ahead to my second change point, leaving Matt at the more immediate one. Double the point men! That's handy ... I could get used to this.

At West Ruislip you go on foot to Ickenham - unless a bus comes of course. But it's become a long-standing joke now for almost all challengers that you never see either a U1 or U10 bus which would save you running on this part of the route. Halfway along the run, I see a U10 ... coming in the other direction. Oh, so they do exist then.

I get close to the station, and with the walkie talkies in range I can hear over the crackle that the voice I'm talking to is that of Matt and not of Chris - who has gone ahead to Uxbridge. Matt tells me that as there's no train in sight or due, and I can walk the last bit, so I do ... slowing down to a fast walking pace at least, and a few metres from the station a U1 bus roars from behind and overtakes me just as I walked up the entrance. I would have got here at exactly the same time had I waited for the bus.

But the Central Line being late has got me there late, and I've missed the train that I wanted to get. Service gap? Ten minutes, which means by the time I get into my next station to change at where Chris is waiting for me (agonisingly watching a train depart as I pull in), we are now officially down on schedule.

Onto the next train instead, annoyingly repeating some stations that we've already been at the morning and onto the next change, where - quite by chance - due to a late running train, we make up some time, and instead of being ten minutes down, we're just the four minutes down.

iPadOn the last challenge, Chris had joked about how it would be nice to have all the working timetables scanned in as PDF's and loaded up onto an iPad. No need to carry around the bulky complete set of timetables with you all day - we've started on that, as we've got one of the lines timetables in PDF format, and we're working on the others. The other handy thing though is that it's so much easier to access the 'net and look up times on the journey planner website. And at this moment in time, Chris is doing just that. Part of me wants to make a crap joke and call it the iTube iChallenge. Oh dear.

I leave Chris in silence to tap, and prod, and poke away with his fingers on the iPad screen, working out some alternative routes and times.

Another run, a boring section of line and Matt kindly takes over some logging and photographing as I take my first real chance to eat and drink something for the day.

We discuss the possibilities of what we might do with the route now. There's a connection coming up in a few hours time that we have to make, otherwise it will set us back so much to almost render the whole day hopeless that early on. Chris pulls out a map - suggests a change - and we all scrutinise it and decide that it's a worth a try - the route is changed on the fly and it feels good.

And here's where it helps to 'know' the tube. Fixed routes are not the way to go with challenging, and a knowledge of all the interchanges without having to look them up certainly is a boon too. Doesn't stop me and Chris getting into an amusing argument about which way a certain line connects at our new interchange station ahead, and after a brief moment of "Bet you five quid it is!", I decide that it isn't and Chris is right, and we're off ... up and running, on a change that I've never made before on a challenge, and yet one that works out quite well.

We leave Chris behind for this section, and Matt comes with me for part of it. I'm impressed that even though he missed out on the first connection that he's decided to stick around for the day "The Whole day?" I ask him "Don't see why not!" he replies happily, and I note that he's making a note of all the stations that he is going to - he might not do all 270, but he's going to see how many he does do.

A swift bus connection that's almost too easy, combined with partial running to where Matt is waiting for me - drink in hand - to the next termini station and within thirty seconds the train is off and away, and again - it feels good. Things are running well. As is my urine.

Last time out I carried an empty bottle with me all day "just in case", and didn't use it once! This time out it's only eleven o'clock in the morning, and I've already used two bottles. What's up, bladder?

The next couple of hours are then very routine - nothing spectacular seems to happen. Matt is quiet, but I'm enjoying him tagging along as a companion anyway. He tweets, I tweet, i send and receive a few personal texts and 'Click!' as we take photos and write down times. I send a message to Sam too to see how they're getting on - we still haven't seen them, and it's going good for them to. Feels like it could be a good service all day on the system and a good time to get around it.

We're back in the middle of the system, making changes at stations that are part of out re-worked route, and I find myself knowing the carriage and door positions to stand at off the top of my head - no need to look at any apps any my iPhone for guidance ... I am the uber-tubegeek-guru.

I jump on one train and have just 80 seconds to get my bearings until I have to change again at the next station. For some reason a young woman - a mother - who is clutching her incredibly young looking baby to her chest gets my attention. I try to work out if it's a boy or a girl, I want to ask her but she must have people asking her all the time. I suddenly find myself wanting to know its name, if it's her first child, if she had any qualms about taking her baby out on public transport in busy London, for a moment .. some paternal instincts stir inside of me and tube challenging is completely forgotten from my head.

One day Geoff - one day - it will be your turn to sit on a train with a child in your lap, or to take your five year old son to Acton Depot and watch him play with trains. Until then, you've got some of your own playing to do.

She catches me looking. "How old?" are the two simple words that I say. "Three months!" she says smiling. "Beautiful" I say, and I swear I feel a tear start to well up in the duct of my right eye, just as the train pulls in, the pneumatic air noise of the doors open fills my eardrums, and I am back to tube geek mode, out and off and running, a beautiful human interruption into my day - and she had no idea.

I catch up with Matt again, and then Chris again. We find ourselves with an enforced Camden Town change which takes less than two minutes - that's not bad, and we are out of central and off and running - figuratively and literally in the suburbs of north London again.

LogbookWhen the sun is high in the sky I make the longest terminus-to-terminus connection of the day. It's written in his own account that the current World Record holder once got from High Barnet to Cockfosters in sixteen minutes. I don't quite make it that fast, but I manage to go faster than last time and make my own personal best - the running and training that I have been doing the past two months is most certainly paying off.

I make it so quickly in fact, that in effect I overtake Chris and Matt who get stuck on a bus in roadworks. I am through the connecting station where I am due to meet them, and they have to catch up with me later instead.

I'm heading south on the Piccadilly, when three guys get on the train all clutching cans of lager. What gets my attention for some reason is that they're all clutching different brands of lager - and I find that really odd. Why not just buy a six-pack and share it around? And they don't appear to have any bags on them where they might be carrying more beer, just ... the individual cans in their hands.

They catch me staring at them, and they all mutter something a little pissed back at me. I think "Shit!" fearing that they're going to give me a hard time, but in fact they talk amongst themselves about who they think I am .. why am I clutching a log book and pen. Why do i keep checking my watch and writing down times at stations, and why have I got black ink pen all up my arm?

"I am not a train spotter, I am not a train spotter" goes the mantra in my head. I can't define what I am (Potential World Record Breaker Person?), but the cliched nomenclature of what people looking at me think I am rattles in my head in time with the wheels on the joints of the rails. There has to come a point, where I just give this all up and kick back with my own can of lager at some point ... at some point.

So I'm judging them, for looking weird and drunk at lunchtime on a Piccadilly Line train, but you could reasonably argue that what they're doing is more normal, and thus - they're judging me.

I change in 21 seconds at my my next connection - a station which involves running up some stairs - that's a shorter time than some trains sit and dwell in a platform, but despite that - it's still in the balance. In fact, it's a feeling that I'll have all day with me, because that's how tight the route is now. You need connections that are one - two at most - minutes all day, to get round it as fast as you need to. One seven minute wait somewhere and you are screwed, and if you think about it too much it puts a little pressure on and its freaks you out. I try not to think about it, enjoy the new Victoria train that I am travelling on right now (even though it disturbs me that the colour of the dark blue grab rails/handles are not the 'correct' shade of blue for the Victoria line), and just worry instead about the next big connection.

The infamous 'Hainault Loop' service is one of three key sections of the map that can really screw you over, but if you have a 'Perfect Trio' along with the other two tricky sections - Mill Hill East and Kensington Olympia, then chances are that you are on for a very good time. These services are only three to four trains per hour, meaning up to a fifteen to twenty minute wait if you miss one - time that you simply cannot afford to be waiting round for to make a serious time.

And I've made a good one .. I think. I'm on the way up to Epping and a swift turn around there should bring me back down just perfectly in time to connect with a train going round the loop towards Hainault. I text Chris to tell him where I am, and my ETA in and out of Epping. A few moments later - he calls me back.

"You're not going to make it". "What!?" "You're just going to miss it - you needed to be one the train five minutes before the one you were on". "WHAT!?", oh - and FUCK too. I thought I'd done it. My connection over to the Central Line to get the train up to Epping had been a fast one, and when i got to the station I only had three minutes to wait which I thought was good. Turns out I must have just missed an Epping train two minutes before - and that was the one that I needed to get to make the connection at Woodford and the train round to Hainault.

Strangely though, I didn't fill disheartened. I don't know why. I just sort of accepted it, and figured ... ok ... so we'll miss out, and we'll be twenty minutes behind all day now, so can expect to come in with a time of around seventeen hours again, and that would be fine.

Chris even tweeted to the effect that we'd missed it, and it was all over.

As the train approached Woodford, I instinctively looked up the branch line as you can see Roding Valley station, curving away in the distance. And at the platform - a train. Our missed train. The one that I wanted to get. My phone rings, it's Chris. "Yeah i know, I can see it, i've missed it..." I say to him somewhat dismissive.

"Err.. No. No you haven't, it's still in the siding here, running late but about to come out - you might just make it!, and I turn and look and realise that the train I saw was one coming towards us, not the one I thought I'd just missed traveling away, and I might still be in with a chance of making it!

My train pulls into Woodford and I run - I have to. Me ... and also some hoody-youth who I think had been listening in on my conversation both make the dash over the footbridge where Chris and Matt and grinning - standing by the doors maybe waiting to give them a nudge to hold them if need to - but they don't, there's a good 20 seconds spare in it. And I jump on excitedly, and realise that I've made the Hainault train.

For the first time in the day there is then a glowing thought in my mind that this could be a really good day.

I've got Mill Hill East and Hainault out of the way. We are half way done. We have the majority of tricky runs out of the way, and we are now heading back to the territory where the frequency of the trains will be picking up again, and the likelihood of waiting long periods of time is, well ... unlikely. This definitely feels good.
I made some calls, send some texts, eat & drink a whole bunch more and generally get a chance to relax for about an hour as Matt logs, and Chris takes photos. I even have a chance to doodle around with and play on his iPad. We have a whole Central Line carriage to ourselves, and we are chilled.

"Oh Geoff, you're so amazing. So much fun! This is such an interesting thing you do! What made you think of it? I don't think I could do it! Could I join you next time? Where you go to the toilet! How much running DO you have to do? Oh Geoff, Geoff!

Stop daydreaming. It's time to move my arse into Walford territory. I speak to Vicki on the phone, it is bloody nice to talk to her at this point.

Last time our turnaround at Upminster was in 43 seconds and it got me slightly aroused. It's slower this time - just over a minute - but we're on time, we're ON TIME heck yes, and slowly... i can start to believe that the route really is good, and that that sixteen hours and thirty seven minutes total time really is going to be a reality. Right?

We come off the District and onto the Jubilee. Chris and Matt leave me to go ahead to their respective points ahead of where I'll change, but for the next hour and a half I'll be by myself - mainly underground and out of contact - and also starting to hit the evening rush hour too.

For the past few hours - out on the ends of the Central and District lines, the trains carriages have been quite empty; space to spread out, stretch out, take up the room and feel like I own the tube. All of a sudden now, commuters - in a hurry to get home on a Friday after a long week, or heading to meet their friends for that all important end-of-week drink and now on my train, in my space, intruding into my beloved underground and getting in my way.

A woman 'tuts' at me when I take slightly too long to move my bag from where I don't realise it's the last seat left on the train and she wants to sit there, and I mumble an apology, and then possibly annoy her further when I start to encroach on her personal space so that I can get a shot of the Canning Town roundel without losing my valuable seat.

Aah, at Canning Town where we sit and wait .. and wait a little more, and I get twitchy because it's clearly gone past the point where the train should have moved off and moved on by now, and yet it hasn't.

I remember something in the back of my head - my log book with the times from last time out. I am using the same notepad today to write times down, and although we've altered the route slightly from the last attempt, large chunks of it are the same and the section I am on now is at the same point of where I was last time - same line, same train, which means that I am able to flip back in the logbook and compare the time that I was here last time to the time that I am here now. We are three minutes behind.

Now this is fatal, because although the route is slightly different and I know I've done more stations at this point of the day that I did last time (and yet am at the same point) it instantly it plays on your mind as three minutes is one - maybe two - missed connections which can put you more then three minutes down overall, and suddenly I'm annoyed that I've used the same logbook and brought the times out with me. It's too much of a little addiction over the next half an hour - as the train finally does leave - to check the times now as to where I was last time. I manage to fire off an update, just before I'm swallowed up by the deep level tube and go deep underground again.

It plays tricks on my mind - being behind, because you KNOW you're behind and it had a small psychological effect on you. But then the good happens ... as I should well know by now can always happen - I get good connections. I change one, then twice, then a third and fourth time, and every time I never have to wait for more than a minute for a train - on the Bakerloo connection in particular I run onto the platform and jump onto the train just as the doors are closing, and that feels great. The bad though, is that later on (after the day has finished) I am left to think "That was really lucky, i'll probably never get, four swift changes like that again in a row", and you start to panic about something that you don't need to worry about - ridiculous, such is the curse of the tube challenger.

On that section of the Bakerloo Line, the urgency to go to the toilet that I have been holding in since Upminster finally overwhelms me and I know I have to do something about it - there and then. I look around the carriage. I am at the very front of the train and there are only two other people in the carriage. At the next station - a busy one, I suspect it's going to fill up, and so if I'm going to do it has to be now.

I put my logbook down onto the seat, and kneel on the floor, trying to make it look as if I'm casually studying that. But down below - and I really hope out of vision to the woman who is literally no more than three metres away from me her head buried in her newspaper - I am utilising an empty Lucozade bottle, and trying to get an angle at which I can pee at which doesn't involve me taking my shorts down any further than I have to. It's working ... right up until the point where the train starts to pull into the next station suddenly, and in my hurry to get everything back in place, coupled with a untimely jolt of the train over some points, there's a small moment of spillage ... onto the carriage floor, and most definitely onto the groin area of my shorts. I look down as I zip myself up .. oh, brilliant. It looks like I've wet myself.

As the train fills up with passengers at the busy stop, I know I can't leave that warm-to-touch yellowy-coloured Lucozade bottle just sitting there, and so I pick it up and hold it in my hand and for the next two stops as I grapple alone to take station photos and write down times, I also carry a bottle of wee in my hand.

It stays with me for the final connection of those four swift runs, until I eventually spot an employee with a rubbish bag, picking up litter from the station where I'm changing at, and I give a cheer 'thanks!' and a smile as I toss it in, probably leaving him wondering why I'm throwing away what looks like a full bottle of lucozade.

Wee Bottles

Onto the next train, onto a new line, and the first thing that happens as I get on is that a woman sitting down looks at me ... looks down at the wet patch stain on my crotch ... and giggles to herself and nudges her mate next to her to tell her how I am unable to control myself. I sigh and turn, giving them a close up view of my arse instead. Giggle over that madame.

Some people love what you do. Some people love it but mock. Some more definitely eschew you. Others will just not get it, and giggle. You learn to accept it.

At the next station, the train dwells at the platform a little too long for my liking and I stick my head out of the door .. just as they doors started to close on me! Where was the beep? Where was the beepingness that warns you that the doors were about to close? I swear I hear giggle-woman at my wet-crotch snigger at me again under my breath at my near moment of getting my head/neck stuck in some doors. At the next station, where it's quieter ... I hear the warning beep from the next carriage down to us and realise that it's broken for our carriage. MInd you - ALL trains used to be like this, remember? Before the Health & Safety craze swept the nation, all doors just shut without any warning on you. How did we cope back then?

At almost exactly six thirty in the evening, having just travelled round the sharpest curve in the system, we burst back out into the daylight at White City station. The screeching resonating wheels against the rails are familiar to me - this is the station that I use to get to work at the BBC. I instinctively look up and see out of the carriage windows the big logo and words 'BBC Television Centre' bearing down on me - but today there is no work, I can't stop, gotta run down the road to Wood Lane station instead.

I keep half an eye out for anyone that I know - i quite often bump into people here, as it is 'going home' time after all. But as I jog down the road, I see no one except faces i don't know amongst the hordes mainly heading TO the station to make their way home, and Wood Lane.

As I jog down Wood Lane itself a train rumbles towards the station to the left of me up high .. in the direction that I want to go. Shit .. i'm not going to make it, but that's ok - I was never going to make it so I slow down to a walking pace, and don't bother calling up Chris on the radio ... Chris ... who is still standing on the platform as I jog up the stairs, and he's surprised to see me as much as I'm surprised to see the train that I thought I was going to miss ... with its doors now closing! If I'd have carried on running i would have made it.

"You didn't use the walkie talkie!" said Chris "I didn't think i was going to make it!", i rather futilely argued back. but it was ok, because of what Chris said next. "Actually, you needn't worry - it's terminating at Goldhawk Road".

Terminating at Goldhawk Road ... what? That's ... unusual. In all my time travelled on this line getting trains south into Hammersmith, I'd never known one terminate at Goldhawk Road. We stood there contemplating, SHOULD I have run and caught it, but no ... I'd be at no advantage because I'd get into Hammersmith on the next train ... the one that we were now stood at Wood Lane waiting for, and as we waited, I started to work out what was going on.

Hammersmith only has three platforms, and a siding to the depot. The train we'd just missed was terminating at Goldhawk Road, and then going into the sidings at Hammersmith - either because there was no room for it, or because it had a fault and needed to go into the depot.

At that point though, another train approached, and I lamented to Chris that I'd probably get held up behind the terminating train.

And that's exactly what happened. We don't know what did happen that day to trains, if there was a fault, if there too many for the line to handle, but that train - which I should have caught, and should have terminated at Hammersmith held me. The train I caught down waited outside Hammersmith as the one in front of us slowly went into the sidings and the depot. As we waited, the train that I wanted to get out left and went north back up the line. Shit, we were now very officially behind.

I turned around at Hammersmith and called ahead to Matt, to say that I was about five minutes behind, and maybe there was a chance of getting the next train. "But there's not any trains here!" he said, and this .. again ... is where we got badly let down.

Something odd was happening on the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines that night. By the time I pulled into Edgware Road where there should have at least been either District or Circle line train waiting - it's a four minute service that alternates - there was nothing. No trains.

Instead, we waited seven minutes for any train to appear at all - a Circle Line slowly crawled in, we watched the driver casually saunter down the platform - texting away on his mobile phone as he went - and eventually left again - ten minutes after we should have done.

As I said at the top - ten minutes is quite a large chunk of time when you want to break a world record - ten minutes is one whole last train at the end of the day. Ten minutes is the difference between doing it and not doing it. Ten minutes meant that we were going to miss our Olympia train connection.

Chris confirmed this when we eventually rolled into High Street Kensington - we'd missed the Olympia train that we wanted to be on. "But we'll pick it up again later" Chris informed us cheerfully - and this perked us up a bit. It's actually completely impossible to do the entire tube system in a day without passing through Earl's Court at least twice, and we hadn't even passed through it once yet.

"Get the District to Wimbledon ... make good changes, and we'll get Olympia when you pass back through later" he said. "And we can still be one train ahead of the record", he said confidently. "What? Ahead!?" "Yup", said Chris, standing there with his iPad and internet connection to the world of train times. "We're doing good and you can still make it". I didn't know if he meant it or not. I just knew that it did spur me to keep pressing on.

And so we pressed on ... steadily. Both Matt and Chris came with me down to Wimbledon, and onto a bus where the driver shouted at us for getting on the exit door instead, and over to the Northern Line. From there we followed our normal pattern - the ins and outs of south London, the bit of central London that we hadn't done. I went off running, and panting, and changing, and taking photos all the way, summing up a bit more energy, trying to make my way round as fast I could. And fast I was.

With the central section done, I made my way back to Earl's Court - about two hours after we'd been through it earlier, and I looked at the time and logbook and realised that due to some remarkable connections and less-than-one-minute changes made in the last hour, I'd got there five minutes sooner than Chris was expecting.

"You're early!" he said cheerfully as I skipped up the steps and joined him and Matt on the platform. "I wasn't expecting you for another five minutes .. you've only just missed the Richmond train which would have been the train before had you already done Olympia"

I looked there puzzled at him, trying to take this in - and I suspect you reader are reading this now thinking 'What does that mean?'. So although this is about to get a bit geeky .. let me explain.

From Earl's Court onwards, the route is pretty much set. We go west along the District Line down to Richmond - on a service that is every ten minutes. We turn around there, come back up through Gunnersbury/Chiswick Park, back onto the District and change to the Piccadilly Line. Again we pick up an every-ten minute service to Heathrow Terminal 4, which connects us to a guaranteed Heathrow Terminal 5 train. The point is - the moment we got here to Earl's Court, it's possible to project out final time through to the finish.

The current world record is 16 hours and 44 minutes (plus the seconds). We know that they got the same start train as us, the 06:22 out of Chesham in the morning, show here in yellow.

Chesham Start

The World Record finish time must therefore have been at 23:05, and to get that train you have to be on the one that gets to Terminal 4 at 22:49, waits for a few minutes, and then goes round the Heathrow loop and connects and gets you into Terminal 4 at 23:01 - highlighted in pink here.

Piccadilly Timetable

The small 'd' means that it arrives 2 minutes earlier at 22:59. That should give you a total time 16 hours and 37 minutes, but for them the train ran late by seven minutes thus giving them a total time of 16:44 instead.

So our plan had always been to be on at least the same train (Pink) and hope that it ran more to time / less late than those seven minutes, and get the record that way - we weren't sure if getting the one before (Yellow) that for a 16:27 finish was even possible .. and yet Chris has just told me that that was the one that we had only just missed!

Could we do that? With a little more luck and some even swifter connections, could we make the train that would give you a 16:27 finish? We'd hung about at Edgware Road and High Street Kensington earlier for a combined time of over ten minutes - not making the Olympia train. Yet if it that had all ran to time, we would be here at the same time - guaranteed to making the train before (giving us a 16:37 finish), and only just having missed the one before that.

(Some people have speculated that a 16:17 finish (Green) is the 'perfect' ultimate time - but for that to work, every train throughout the day would have to run to time, and you must have no delays! An unlikely scenario?)

As it was though - we still had Olympia to do. But that was ok ... the train was due in a moment, we would get it, run on foot to the connecting station and get the Richmond train which would almost guarantee us the train before and a projected 16:37 finish.

Except ... it never came. We just stood there, looking forlornly at the antiquated board at Earl's Court that tells you where the next train is going. A Wimbledon train came through. Followed by another Wimbledon. Then one to Ealing Common. And then ... a Richmond train.

"This is the Richmond train you need to be on" said Chris - now with his iPad out checking the times on the journey planner website. "Only the Olympia train should have already come and gone by now so that you can connect with this one". And yet ... It just didn't come.

Oddly, someone who did come at that point was our friend Adham. He's seen out tweets earlier and knew that two groups of people were out doing the challenge, and and got the train all the way down from Leicester just to come and join us for the last hour!. Adham turned up by arriving on a train in Earl's Court .. which turned out to be the one that we were going to leave on too.

As we watched other non-Olympia trains came through, we got more and more annoyed, where the hell was it? We even saw the one that had come from Olympia heading up to High Street Ken coming the other way, but the one to take us to the final perfect-trio station? No.

Eventually, another Richmond service was signalled. "I think you should get it", said Chris. "This is the one that will get you in at 16:47. At least we can prove the route".

As the lights of the train in the distance slowly approached, I went over Chris's reasoning in my head and realised it was a good idea. We could sit and wait and wait for an Olympia train, but we would have a slow time. Or ... I could get this Richmond train now and test out the rest of the route - check that the connections worked, knowing that on another attempt we would have got the Olympia service, and we would know how the rest of the service would run.

The train pulled in, we half clambered on, loitering by the door, me with a lingering hope that the white arrow on the departure board might at the last second light up against 'Olympia'. But it didn't, the noise of the closing doors started, and we all leaned back to let it firmly shut, and we all turned and looked at each other ... and said nothing. There would be no record breaking today.

Shit.

How the hell was I going to write this all into a 140-character twitter update?

The answer of course - is that you can't. But the moment that I put "Good or bad news" out, my phone burst into left with personal text messages, it was really odd. All day it had felt like I was doing this, and was not really aware of who was following along out there in the virtual world. Suddenly I felt like I had a whole bunch of followers as I got eight text messages off of friends - some that I wouldn't have expected to have been following - asking what that meant. I told them. "No Olympia. It's 269 stations only. Sad face". And I wasn't sure what else to say.

Adham, decides to come down with me for the Richmond branch turn around and run ... which I still have to do, even though there's no more record to go for. I'm quite glad that he's here actually, as he chatters away at a hundred miles an hour distracting me from the thought, that ultimately - whilst I'm going to get round in a really fast time - and most likely in a time of under seventeen hours, it'll will be with having missed one station out, and thus it's a failed attempt.

... and I was still wondering how to explain that I was about to get my fastest time ever - albeit without doing Olympia. Ah well, it would just have to wait for the write up.

We made the run to Chiswick Park with Adham in front of me. Ha! well he hadn't been going all day, had he? He later admitted to me that he would probably not do so well on the long distance runs.

"Minute and a half" said Chris as I came up the steps onto the platform - he's still got the iPad still in hand, checking the journey planner website again, and both he and Matt looked at me and smiled, as we all knew that that really we had made the last tricky connection, and it was all plain sailing on the Piccadilly Line from now on. I think I may have even done a little dance.

I am Geoff! I am mighty tube geek extraordinare and nothing shall compare me to thy vast tube challenge knowledge and ability to traverse all the stations in one day! And sometimes the fastest ever time possible, too.

A little parading around and wild gesticulations on the platform of Chiswick Park much to everyone's amusement ensued - It's allowed. I needed a moment of fun - a moment of release. Last time, the release had come running across the one-way system and having a whole bunch of people screaming at me to get onto a train as they held the door for me. Today, there had just been disappointment at the fact that we'd missed a station out, so I had to create something of my own, and it worked. The others laughed at me..

And to the finish. Through Acton Town and changing to the Piccadilly Line. Down to Heathrow 4, the obligatory seven minute wait before going round the loop, changing - our train was late as well by three minutes - and eventually pulled into Heathrow Terminal 5 at twelve minutes past eleven. Actually, it was eleven o'clock, eleven minutes and fifty nine seconds - 23:11:59.

Which - I did the maths on my notebook - subtracted from our starting time of 06:21:54 that morning, gave me a total time of 16 hours, 50 minutes and 5 seconds.

That was faster than last time, my fastest ever, three minutes faster than (but one whole train behind) the current record holder, and the second fastest time ever in this configuration ... except for the caveat of having not actually done Olympia.

The lateness of our last train by three minutes means that we actually should have a time of 16:47, but we got the 16:50 instead. It's still under the 'magic' seventeen hour barrier though - something which not a lot of people had done - even though they would no doubt point out that I'd missed a station.

I thought about this as we got moaned at by a member of station staff for innocuously sitting on the platform.

We'd all spent seventeen minutes on the platform of Earl's Court earlier. I'd spent twelve combined waiting for trains that weren't there at Edgware Road and High Street Kensington earlier - twenty nine minutes in total, during which I should have caught an Olympia train had it of been running, and easily made the train that would have got me in with a 16:37 finish - and very possibly to a 16:27 one.

I took a deep breath, and a swig of now warm water from the last surviving bottle in my bag, as I slowly realised to myself that with our route the record - is very definitely beatable,

At the endAs we sat and waited at Heathrow 5, I then started to lament on the day. I started to think about how close it had been, how good it had been, how I'd got a great time but it didn't count because we'd missed a station, and how I was going to have to write this all up and explain it to people. And I conked out lying flat on my back on the platform, and got slightly grumpy.

About twenty minutes after us, Sam, Matthew & Al pulled in on a train that was a few behind us. They'd been on for a really good time too until they'd been held on the Victoria line by signal problems at about eight o'clock, and been put back by half an hour. We all agreed that they had a solid route too - one that matched ours, or was it that ours matched theirs? And we discussed the possibility of another run.

Run Geoff, run! Young at heart and young at mind can equal young in body. And with my mind really set on doing something immensely fun and overwhelmingly rewarding when it all works out - or even almost works out, your two legs will take your their. Keep on running.

Sometime in October, we'll be going again : watch this space.


Tube 11 (X.1) statistics:

Stations visited: 269/270 (Missed Olympia)
Start time: 06:21.54 Finish time: 23:11.59
Time taken: 16 hours, 50 minutes, 5 seconds
Number of people: 2, 1 dropped out and became additional support
Support team: 1, which became 2 when dropped out

Other 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


Epilogue

Late night Dominoes Pizza makes excellent post-challenge food.

The debate about whether a 16 hour and 27 minutes finish raged on for a few days after. Emails were fired back and forth, debating about if it was actually realistically possible, or you would always get 'just close'. Personally, I'm sticking to 16:37 as the 'perfect time' to finish in.

The muscle ache took two days to set in. I got up on the Saturday feeling delightfully non-achy! On the next day - Sunday, it suddenly set it.

Matt wants to come out again and be a support man again next time rather than participate. He tells us that he did 193 stations in total though in the end.

We found out from the service report later that Mill Hill East station & branch had closed completely after 6.30pm and that there had been a 'One Under' on the Victoria line at VIctoria station itself at around 10pm that night.

We also (much later) found out that the Olympia train which didn't run .. did run .. it's just that it got re-routed to Wimbledon instead. When there are service gaps on more 'important' lines (such as Wimbledon) due to other/earier problems, the Line Controllers sometimes make the decision to re-route trains, and such is what happened to the Olympia train : it became a Wimbledon train.


@geofftech

jamesfarrier
My #ff is solely for @geofftech, he's attempting a world record to visit every Underground stop right now as we tweet. You go, sir!

neilonanhst
@geofftech: My nose is tingling! Why?” Shouldn't have used Charlie as a wake-up stimulant.

flyperson
Go between the carriages - not nice, but neither is wetting yourself. Think of an arid dessert! #spwt

matthewf_
Oakwood. Have lost count for the moment. In a weird turn of events Geoff is ahead of us. http://twitpic.com/2kt0yg

neilonanhst
@molecrochip: Geoff has overtaken support team. #spwt #dammroadworks” Does this mean he has transcended time?

neilonanhst
Scraw-Brown and MGM appear to have had second winds. Maybe they also have wind. #caughtshortonthetube

pugwonk
best of luck, been tracking this (although - boy - you're a Twitter slut today!)

randomduck
Is the good news the fact that the bad news is wrong?

mikedebney
fantastic stuff!! Have enjoyed your #spwt updates!

JohndMcCormick
Hi there - I kept track of your tweets till 5pm, alas I am now back in good ole Northants. Keep going!! You can do it :D

scrxisi
done yet? We're heading for a miserable 2338 finish :( #apwt

neilonanhst
And what a turnaround! Scrawley are going down (I said going down), while Geoff is back on track. #hurryupsoicangotobedtonight

neilonanhst
Spill the beanz and stop teasing your followers. #olympiacough

TheTonyO
unlucky, have been following all day. So close. Do Continue to #pwt

Metro_land
Bad luck, but what a fantastic effort. I've no doubt the record will be yours again!

#apwt

samytfc
@joecise hello! Cheers for the follow... I assume this is coz I also am running around the tube network in a Sam vs Geoff "war" haha

samytfc
@molecrochip it looks cold and for the first time ever, I've opted for shorts for a FNC, this will be a shock to my body

scrxisi
It's cold. But not as cold as last November. Brrr #apwt

samytfc
@geofftech Sounds like the race is definitely on!! Eeee. Exciting lol #apwt

samytfc

Wow!! Ticket inspectors and BTP, just as well I wasn't running full pelt else I could have been seeing a police station lol

scrxisi
Make or break section coming up. When we come out the other end we'll know whether it's still on or not! #apwt

scrxisi
Make or break? Make! Clawed back time. Another key section coming up. #apwt

samytfc
Tired, can't run, thigh strain, ouch #apwt

samytfc
think we're fucked. I hate the tube :( #apwt

samytfc
Hate the tube again, an 11 min journey should not take 20. Game over :( #apwt

scrxisi
@neilonanhst was going great until last hour or so. 17h07 best we can hope for now #apwt

scrxisi
A Signal failure has cost us nearly 20 mins. Were 22 down at last calculation. Dispondent. #apwt

samytfc
OH MY GOD!! Sexy connection and now just 11 down. Game on

scrxisi
Done in 17:13:21. PB for me and Al and we too know our route would do 16:37 without a blasted signal failure. Very proud of team effort! ...

samytfc
Made it to the end. 17hrs, 13mins, 21 seconds. There's been highs and lots of lows, I need sleep badly #apwt