The beginnings of this challenge started a year before in November 2011, when Richie Firth - sidekick to Christian O'Connell - on the Absolute Radio breakfast show announced that he was going to attempt the challenge. Richie had never made a secret of the fact that he was a bit of a train geek himself, and this was always something that he'd wanted to do. The challenge suited the radio show too for them as they were always looking for something 'wacky' to participate in - meaning there would be radio coverage and video too of the event.
They made all sorts of fuss about it, with lots of publicity, I even joined Richie and made a video with him the week before during a four-hour test run, and even got Guinness involved heavily, only for at the last moment the plug was pulled because Richie had a health check up, and was told that he wasn't fit enough to attempt it.
Time moves on ... and one year later with Richie now having lost weight, going running and generally getting his body into a much fitter state, he announced that he was ready and so he called me up, and told me he wanted my help getting round the network again - could we do it? Yes we could, I told him ...
It's a cold Thursday morning (-6 claimed Richie for the listeners) as the paid-for taxi dropped me off at Chesham station where I join him for the day. The first thing I notice : He's wearing a BRIGHT YELLOW high-visibility jacket with the 'Absolute Radio' logo emblazoned on the back, that no one is going to miss as he's running around today.
They're also not calling it 'Tube Challenge' but Tubeathon. Richie had toyed with the idea though of calling it 'Heathrow or bust' which would be his finishing station, but Tubeathon won out in the end.
The day starts quietly, but it doesn't take long until we meet our first listener. "Are you Richie?" says a lady to him on the platform of Amersham station "I normally walk to the station but my husband dropped me off in the car today and I just heard you on the radio talking about it!", she said. It wasn't to be the first time we were spotted today.
The first four hours of the challenge coincided with the broadcast of the radio show, so it mainly consists of me telling Richie 'Go this way', 'Run there', 'We need this/that train' as he was on his phone back to the studio, and doing some audioboo updates as well which they would later cut for tomorrow's programme.
You could tell that Richie really had been running as part of his 'lose weight, get fit' programme as he matched me all the way on the run from North Harrow to Rayners Lane no problem. He re - the station supervisor popped out when he saw us and gave Richie a bottle of water that he'd requested, brilliant! The station staff were listening in.
Shortly after - a small cockup at Uxbridge, where a listener was all primed and ready to hand over a chunky kit-kat bar to Richie. And this is where is was immediate that this challenge would differentiate itself from a 'proper challenge' - the fussing around grabbing the chocolate bar mean that Richie immediately missed a Picc line train that left as soon as we had arrived - on a regular challenge day, we'd have made that train.
Everything else ticked by as normal thought for the rest of the morning, where being December- there was snow and ice on the ground, and we got onto the Central Line and changed at TCT to head up the Northern. Once out of the tunnels, Richie called ahead to make plans for a lunch drop - McDonald's of all things - which he thought Christian may bring out to him.
It was at this point that I wanted to say to Richie "Christian might come out and give you food? Dude, if you're going to do this, he needs to". The difference between a real challenge with dedicated people helping you, and the one of doing it for the radio and maybe having people to come out and support you.
Edgware, bus, Canons park, we need to go one stop north to Stanmore to reverse but looking at the board there is a gap in the Jubilee Line service of 7 minutes which is not what we wanted, so Richie used the time to call Christian and confirm a time ahead for our lunchdrop.
"Where would be good to meet?", he says turning to me. "Baker Street. Platform 5. Eastbound, In about 35 minutes time", I reply thinking ahead to out next move, and Richie relays these instructions and a lunch order is placed. It works, and just over half an hour later, Christian (who had been spotted and people asking him how it was going) is waiting for us when we run up to the eastbound sub-surface platforms, and there are two greasy bags of McDonalds waiting for us. It's not good food, it's not the right food, but is IS food, and do it is gobbled up gratefully.
We jump out at Old Street, and down the escalator to the Northern Line to head for Mill Hill East and the High Barnet branch.
At Mill Hill East, we almost get given some Bailey's ice-cream. Richie is on his phone checking the radio stations Facebook page and someone has posted that their coming to MHE to meet us there, only ... when we get there, there isn't anyone about. It later transpires that the girl coming to meet us was running up the stairs with the ice-cream just as our train was pulling back out to head back down to Finchley.
And on we go, following an old 'standard' route of mine and ticking off the stations. I do again have to credit to Richie on his runs. Two of the 'big ones are between High Barnet and Cockfosters, and getting between the Victoria and Central Lines, and at no point did he want to stop, and take a walk ... he kept on jogging away, keeping up with me and not bailing - nice stuff. We run to Leytonstone station wanting to head north, and from the street I can see there is a train approaching. Would it be a Hainault Loop train, I wondered? it is a loop train! We completely lucked out and had not wait to get round the the tricky Central Line part which was a bonus.
At Kings Cross we get spotted again. Ah - but not Richie this time but me! As we get on a Piccadilly train I hear a voice say "Hey! Geoff!", and as we're at the front of the train I turned and look and see the a driver that I know Alan leaning out of his cab windows looking back down the platform. "Hello!" and grin, and Richie gives me a funny look as if to say "How the hell do you know the driver of our train Geoff?", but there's no time to talk because the doors are beeping and we're getting on board to head south...
Marc Gawley also came out to see us - that's Marc who had previously held the record, and is a listener and friend of mine and happened to be in town that day so brought us out a drink and some refreshments too - most excellent and most kind of him too, thanks mate.
The day goes on. It's weird as we have no point people, no Chris checking the delays, or the best connection to make, or to perhaps run a little harder/faster to make a certain connection, and so we just plod on through the day.
At the beginning of the evening rush hour on the tram at Wimbledon - Richie makes another phone-call to the radio station and does a piece on the Geoff Lloyd home-time show to update on his progress. A few minutes later, as we're running on foot down to Morden station together, a girl in the passenger seat of a car going past, leans out and screams "KEEP GOING RICHIE!!" and we both instinctively wave, and I laugh and the car zooms past ... people are listening!
Post rush-hour and we're getting hungry again but Richie assures me that Maggie has got the evening food-drop sewn up. However, it would appear that the 'being underground' bit has made it difficult for her to call Richie to find out where we are, being underground a lot doesn't help make phonecalls or send text messages and she's having trouble keeping track of where we are. However, using tube Wi-Fi I have just enough time in the 20 second stop at an underground station to tweet her instead, saying "Victoria. 7pm. Eastbound District, Front of train". A simple and clear instruction ... which she'd read and understand .. right?
At Victoria, 45 minutes later, there 's no sign of her. "MAGGGIIIEE!" I scream down the platform in case she's standing in the wrong place but she's really not there. Maybe my tweet hadn't gone through? Ah no, it had gone through ... proved by the fact that someone else was now with us - Chris has turned up! "I saw your tweet to Maggie", he said smiling. "Knew where you'd be".
Richie's noticeably goes quiet. Where the hell was Maggie? I'd tweeted her precise instructions about where to be at what time, and had failed to turn up. But I realised that with Chris now with us he could get us soon food instead. So our evening dinner was saved when Chris went ahead on a faster train and picked up some KFC for us (and himself), and we happily spent the journey back from Upminster into town eating greasy chicken.
The next day on the radio show when they went through it they spent a lot of time chastising her for inability to coordinate with us and find where we are. "I kept chasing them around the system!" she insisted, and I couldn't help but wonder whether she' d failed to grasp a basic concept here - you don't chase someone around the system. You sit and wait for them at a point that you know they will be calling through, and this is what she hadn't done.
So we're at London Bridge about 8pm, when I tell Richie what I've know for the majority of the day ... we're not going to get a record time, "But we are going to complete" I cheerfully tell him, "So you'll be able to say you've been to 270 stations in a day", which is a nice thing. Right? Right.
9pm. At High Street Kensington. And there is a worrying lack of a sight of a train to Kensington Olympia. Surely .. oh no, had they, no!? Really?? Or for fucks sake .. I knew what was coming ..
When Richie had told me the date he wanted to do the attempt a month ago, the first thing I did was go to the TfL website and check the online journey planner to see if there were Olympia services running that day - there were! Starting at me on screen was confirmation that there was a half an hour service between HSK and Olympia that day, and we had turned up just 10 minutes before one was due out. But it wasn't there.
Confusion reins, as talking to a member of station staff he said "Yes it should be coming in", only for moments later talk to another member of staff saying "No, Olympia trains have not been running all day". I told him it was in the journey planner that it was, he said sorry - but the fact is that there were no Olympia trains. The TfL website had clearly lied, and got it wrong, and now it would screw us over for a completion.
From there it was the usual finish to Chiswick Park, Gunnersbury (where Richie and I lamented the Olympia situation), to Acton Town where the gang came out to meet us, and to a Heathrow finish and a time about an hour outside the record time. And we'd only been to 269 stations.
The Olympia thing really was appalling though, the website HAD stated that there would be service running. in the aftermath as questions where asked, stories emerged of daily occurrence of trains pulling into Earl's Court where the headboard says one thing, the announcer says another, and even the driver not knowing himself if there was an Olympia service running or not. The situation is a mess, and TfL/LU need to sort it one way or another. Closing the station completely, and making people use the Overground to get there would be the simplest thing - withdraw the Olympia service altogether avoid all he confusion, and make the lives of Tube Challengers easier!
Throughout the whole day, I'd had a video-flipcam on me, and I shot lots of footage which I edited together for Absolute. They put a 4 minute version on their website here, but I uploaded to my own Youtube a channel the extended 8 minute version with more stuff in, here:
Tube 22 stats
Stations visited: 269/270
Start time: 05:55.36 Finish time: 00:03:59
Time taken: 18 hours, 8 minutes, 23 seconds
Number of people: 2
Support team: Several
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)
There was also one small thing worth mentioning. I remember halfway through morning that I'd thought "Actually, the service hasn't broken - how often does that happen!", and if it were not for the fact of the complete Olympia failure at the end, I wouldn't have classified this as a 'TubeFail' day. But it was at the moment in the morning when I was thinking this, that Richie had turned and said to me "It's going alright isn't it? It couldn't have gone any quicker?"
Well ... apart from the missed train at Uxbridge, it couldn't of - woah! No. Shit. And suddenly I'd remembered something.
When I'd plotted the route out with times, I knew what time we should have been arriving at North Harrow in the morning to Rayners Lane, and I couldn't work out why we'd been behind that time, by 15 to 20 minutes. Suddenly, I realised something - I had messed up.
We'd started on the 05:55 train out of Chesham, which means going to Chalfont, and then up to Amersham, and then we'd got the next Metropolitan Line train out - heading south. But before then a Chiltern train had some through, which we'd not got on - and we should have done. As it wasn't a 'proper' challenge day - in terms of the whole team not being there, and distracted by all the phone updates and media moments, I'd forgotten that we DID need to get that Chiltern train and get out again at Chalfont where we would have picked up Met that would have come out of Chesham. And it had cost us about 15 to 20 minutes of time. And I never told Richie.
A year later - I've still never told Richie, and only if he should ever browse to my webpage , find, and read this - will he realise my mistake. We still wouldn't have got a record time (with or without Olympia) if we'd have done this - but we would have been quicker than we were, for sure. Sorry Richie.
A huge thanks must go to Chris also for coming out in the evening and tracking us down and feeding us KFC. "This is a gooood thing!", as Richie would say.
13th December 2012
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.