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The One Where We Kept Our Focus

Tube 21 - 14th September 2012

We need to explain a little about the pain-in-the-arse station that is Kensington (Olympia) here first, before we can talk about anything else on this - attempt number twenty-one around the network.

The limited number of trains to Kensington Olympia have always made it a pain-in-the-arse to knock out as part of a challenge, but there was a recent time when there was a regular service throughout the day of three trains an hour, meaning that you could (almost) rock up to Earl's Court, and get an every-20 minutes train to Olympia (or from there, obviously)

OlympiaThen is December 2011, everything changed. LU effectively withdrew the service completely, electing to only to run it on weekends, public holidays, and on exhibition service days. This we found out is when there was an exhibition on at Olympia, which the organisers were wiling to pay LU for the cost of covering a service that day. Yet Guinness World Record rules state that challenges cannot be done at the weekend - so does this mean that you had to wait until an exhibition day service was running until you could do a challenge? Actually ... no! Because something that LU kept quiet (and still don't advertise much) is that there are some trains - 7 in total, in fact - that operate to/from Olympia, but at very odd times.

There are five trains that leave there very early in the morning, and two that go to there late on in the evening.

This means that on non-exhibition days, you have to catch one one of this awkwardly-timed seven trains, which makes it even harder than ever to fit getting Olympia in to your schedule for the challenge. Yet ... did we have a route that covered it? Yes - yes we did.

So whilst other challengers were waiting on the (badly) publicised dates of when an exhibition service would be running, we came up with a cunning start to the day. So cunning that I can't mention what it is - suffice to say, that we did something completely different that we'd never tried before (not even as a test), and it paid off magnificently. We got one of the seven limited trains that run during the day, but we're not saying which one!

The rest of the day I'll mainly remember as chunks of conversations ...

Conversations on the Tube


On a train heading towards King's Cross

At just after 09.30 in the morning, and a school group of about twenty kids and their teachers all get on the train. It's a bit of a squeeze, but there's a happy atmosphere about them and we all start chatting. "We're taking them for a day out to Margate ... the seaside!" explained one of the teachers", and it transpired that it was as a reward - for all of these kids are the ones who had a perfect attendance record last year. For a moment, I couldn't help but think about the poor kids back at the school right now, especially those who may have been genuinely ill and told by their doctor to stay at home. Still, that didn't stop us having images of ice-cream and buckets & spades in our heads, and we all spontaneously broke into a chorus of "Oh I do like to be beside the seaside" to make them smile.

Oh, and later we found out that Richard had thought that the teacher said that she was taking them to Moorgate not Margate, and didn't understand why we were singing ...

On the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line

"That was my mistake, sorry". "That's ok, we'll still make it". "I don't think we will. Shit". And I sunk back into a seat having a mild moment of sadness wondering whether I'd just cocked the whole day up. Richard had been following me on the last change between two lines, and unbelievable I'd made a wrong turn and took me a good 30 seconds to realise before turning around and going back - a whole half a minute wasted.

We got the next Northern Line train but really we both knew that we should have been on the one before to guarantee our Mill Hill East connection. Now I didn't think we were going to make it.

Kate calls, she's at Finchley Central waiting for us. "Where are you?", she asks. I tell her. "Oh". "I know, I don't think we're going to make it", and then I go silent, because it is a horrible feeling, knowing that you have fucked up, especially when everything else that day so far had not just gone well - but had gone better than expected. No one can console you, nothing can cheer you up. You just have to keep going, and somehow believe that you can make an un-makable connection.

Somewhere on the District Line

"Tell you what", says Chris - looking up for my iPad where he's got the 'Tube Tracker' app open. What about if you run the New York marathon for your fiftieth, and I'll do it as my fortieth!". I chuckle, is he being serious? I can't tell. The conversation for the past few minutes has been about the possibility of some our support team doing their own challenge at somepoint - a reverse or 'anti-challenge' as it were where we all role reverse. This then leads to a conversation about fitness, and I joke that it would take ten years for Chris to get fit enough to run around the network.

"So we could go to New York, the same week as the marathon - have a crack at riding the Subway, and then do the marathon before flying home!". Ummm, okay ... I'm not sure if that one's going to happen, let's just see shall we? And at the moment the train trundles into Becontree station and Richard stands up to photograph it, and I prepare to note down the arrival time in the logbook.

Keeping Focus

"You are keeping your focus, aren't you?" asks Richard as we go along the Victoria Line. I smile back. "I'm there, I know, I'm good". Earlier on at the Mill Hill East moment where I thought I wasn't going to make it and freaked out a little bit, it had all got a bit intense and Richard had reminded me that I needed to stay focused, to keep going, and not let anything else potentially go wrong for the rest of the day. "So you must focus!" he had serously, with a platfuy overtone. "You stay focused!" I joke play. "We must BOTH be focused", he said. and it became a running joke for the rest of the day whenever anything was quite going to plan .. to stay focused, and that would make everything better again.

A life saving moment

On the Central Line, out on the loop in a quiet carriage. "Go on then, show me what happened", says Richard. and I oblige after just telling him my life-saving story to showing him exactly how it panned out. So in the next few moment, i part improvised the story of myself, the other passengers - and more importantly - the woman who had collapsed on the floor in front of me, and I had to step in and help here.

"So basically Rich, if you were to have a heart attack now, you're good because I've been on an official course since and learnt CPR. I even know what CPR stands for". Richard looks at me, doesn't not say a word, but his face clearly reads "Thanks Geoff, not thinking about having a heart attack anytime soon though..."

The bus to Wimbledon

Sloane Square

"Excuse me, excuse me! EXCUSE ME!" I say quite loudly as we bundle down the steps to the eastbound platform at Sloane Square. Doing a reverse here is a tense moment of the day, made worse by the fact that as we'd come in on our westbound train, I could that a Circle Line train (which we need to knock out Aldgate) was pulling into the station.

"You know there's more than one train right?" shouts a guy at me with what sounds like an antipodean accent. "Yes, I know but we have to catch THIS TRAIN" i say loudly back - still coming down the steps- and not even sure who I'm addressing my speech to. "But they all go the same way!" I hear the voice call back, now behind us. "Not this one, no.. this is our special train I now shout back", trying to convey a jovial tone in my voice which I don't think he quite got.

No worries, mate. We made the Circle Line train - no waiting - and sat on it happily all the way through to Aldgate.

The Wimbledon Kid

I'm getting fitter I made most of the day before I started to feel the pain in my legs - more that I've ever made any other day before. Chris also noted, that there weren't occasions where I would run onto a train, and collapse breathless on the floor like I used to do previous. I am fitter. I am definitely fitter. When the next few winter months sink in and I am still out breathing icy cold air on the hard streets of Ealing, I shall remember how brilliantly fit I felt all day, and how I will keep running and be even fitter for next time. It's edging closer, it's going to happen. It's just a matter of 'when' and not 'if' now ...

A complete time of 16 hours, 43 minutes and 37 seconds. Yes - this is slightly slower than my personal best/fastest of 16:38.41, but remember the important fact .. this was done on a non-Olympia exhibition service day meaning we had to get one of the seven limited service. All the other faster times (including the current world record) were set on days when there was an exhibition service running.

Therefore, would it be clutching at straws a little to be able to claim fastest-270 for a non-exhibition day service? Yes, yes .. it would. But that's what we'd done, got round faster than anyone else on such a day, something which we were very very pleased with..


Tube 21 stats

Stations visited: 270 (Completion)
Start time: 05:55
Finish time: 22:48
Total time: 16 hours, 43 minutes, 37 seconds.
Number of people: 2 (Geoff, Richard)
Support team: 4 (Chris, Kate, Matt, Vicki)

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 (Second World Record)