Saturday, May 31, 2008

Zone 1 challenge, May 30th

End of May is traditionally the time for the annual Zone 1 competition - where tube challengers and potentials gather to race around the 64 underground stations in the Travelcard zone 1 in as quick a time as possible.

A mini challenge was organised for the Thursday evening before so myself, Jack and Olli decided to team up for it as a warmup. It was a designated Random 15 challenge - 15 stations from zones 1 & 2 would be drawn, and each of these would have to be visited at least once. Embankment was the only station revealed in advance as that was the meeting point and we gathered there to receive the other 14 stations. They were spread out over the two zones and bloody difficult - we plotted a route before leaving Embankment, but were beset by so much bad luck we abandoned after two and a half hours having only made it to 7 of the stations. After chasing three trains out of four stations (i.e. we made it to the platform as the train was leaving) we decided luck was not on our side and went to the pub instead.

Friday, after a good night's sleep, we met up with around 40 others at Oxford Circus, where the starting station would be drawn. The rules were run through while Jack and I were using the toilet, but as experienced challengers we didn't need to hear them. Thankfully Olli was still there and up to speed on what was going on. I'd warned him in advance that it was a lot faster paced than the Random 15 - "more running than your average Doctor Who episode" was how I phrased it. "Love the running" was his response and it became a catchphrase for the event between us three. Last year it was myself, Jack and Matt as "Team Subways" - due to circumstances changing (and billy lunn being an arrogant twat) Matt was in another team, so me and Jack ran with Olli under the team name "Frankie Goes To Chorleywood". The station was drawn, and despite my hopes that it would either be Archway (in zone 2/3) or Aldwych (closed since 1992) it turned out to be the bustling metropolis that is King's Cross St Pancras. Off we sodded there.

On the train up a route was rapidly drawn up, and then redrawn when we realised we'd missed off Goodge Street. I sought clarification as to one of the rules, which stated that you didn't need to leave on the first train leaving the station at 1pm - you could wait for the first one on your desired line. I used this to get a Hammersmith and City line train to Paddington - they're rarer than hen's teeth and by doing this at the start it meant we wouldn't be relying on getting one later in the route (ha!). I wasn't alone in doing this, as we had a fair few others getting on the train with us - including last year's winner John Stark. We made the mistake of chasing him through Paddington last year without realising he runs for fun, whereas we don't even run for food. He was handicapped this year by running with someone else, thus slowing him down. On arrival at Paddington I surprised everyone, not least myself, by leading the pack through the barriers and onto the mainline station platforms. Haring down platform 8 I realised once again that getting into shape would have been a wise idea, and was overtaken by Andi and Olli. At the barriers to the Bakerloo line platforms all our paper travelcards failed and we had to be let through the gate by the assistant - would we need this every time we breached the gateline?

Cunningly, when we got on the Bakerloo line train (which arrived at the platform at the same time that we did) we were going to the end of the line, so could sit and rest for a bit. By Oxford Circus we'd recovered and were raring to go again - at Elephant & Castle we shot off the train, and up to the Northern line platforms (far far shorter than I expected) to find a minute wait and an amused chap who asked if we were running round the entire Underground or something. "Something like that" we replied to his chuckle and a good luck. Jumping on the train we didn't bother sitting down, as we were only going two stops, and sprinted off at London Bridge to the Jubilee line - a long journey involving escalators I thought, but clever observation of the signs stopped Olli sprinting up a pair as I bellowed "LEFT!" to turn down to the Jubilee line corridor and make it to another 30 second wait for a train. Another two stops and to Waterloo, and the first escalator run (and second shortly after) which really, really kills the legs. Stumbling to find a Vauxhall train we jumped on one, and took advantage of the on train toilet as we didn't know when would be the next opportunity. A helpful South West Trains conductor told us the best place to get out for the exit and we jumped out, grateful that the platform was nearest the Underground barriers which handily were also open. Jumping down the steps to the underpass I stumbled but didn't fall and ran around slow walking commuters, high-fiving a fellow competitor on the way up to the trains.

We had a minor wait for a Victoria line train up to Euston - it turned out to be roastingly hot which didn't help our already damp clothes - and ran up more bloody escalators (love the running) to the City branch of the Northern line. A three minute wait here was annoying, but we had another intruiged passenger on the train who wanted to know what we were up to and also wished us luck. Leaving Moorgate we had nobody to run past until practically the Circle line platforms - a two minute wait here, then we got on a Hammersmith and City line train ("ha," we joked, "we won't need another today!") back up to King's Cross. This section of the tube is rare in zone 1 as it's almost open air - I took the opportunity to reply to Amie's text before we switched to the Piccadilly line. Running down six steps to the ticket hall I would've leapt onto and slid down the central bannister if there wasn't a whacking great information board at the bottom of it - probably a good thing as I could see myself coming a cropper and making a tit out of myself again. There was a train in so we leapt on it, and moved up to the right carriage at Russell Square.

Way back in November we went southbound on the Piccadilly line to Gloucester Road. Owing to an administrative cockup we got the end of the train wrong and had to run like the clappers down the platform to get the lifts - one of the many setbacks that day. Remembering that, I said we should sit at the front of the train, and recounted the above story with an air of smugness about me. Arriving in to Gloucester Road we looked out of the windows to see the Way Out signs all pointing towards the back of the train. Cillit Bang! Leaping out the train we raced down the platforms, and as I was running along the yellow line it meant that anyone else getting off would be in my way - like the Asian girl in carriage four who stepped out in front of me, causing me to suddenly change direction by 90 degrees (and I'm glad I was wearing newer trainers than the 7 year old pair I had on last year, else it would've been painful) to avoid her. We got to the lifts to find a queue, and somewhat rudely snuck our way to the front to get in the lift first. This backfired on us when we reached the surface to find the exit was the same pair of doors we came into the lift in (tube station lifts have doors both sides) and had to struggle through everyone to reach the sub-surface platforms. By the time we were there a District train to Upminster (our ideal connection) had closed its doors and was departing. Bad karma.

Luckily there was a Circle line train along one minute later, so I had time to take a picture of the panda, but it meant that we'd be doing the Aldgate run the wrong way round - from Aldgate to Aldgate East - and we'd be relying on a Hammersmith and City train there. By this time we'd passed the two hour mark and were looking shaky for a sub 3-hour time. At Aldgate we ran up the many steps to street level (love the running) and out, along the street. We hit a bit of a snag with the A1211 being in the way, but luckily found a subway and ran along it, showing it the proper courtesy and respect. Crossing two minor roads and dodging roadworks we got to Aldgate East, passing Matt who was going the other way, to find nothing on the boards. Cillit bang! A quick rewrite was in order, and we got a District train back to Tower Hill, where we crossed to get on the Circle line (only 94 seconds spent there) and visit Aldgate that way.

(An aside - rules state that a station is only visited if you enter or leave it via a London Underground train. Running back to Aldgate was not therefore an option - not least because it would've killed us.)

Through Aldgate we leapt out at Liverpool Street to reach the Central line platforms at about the same time as a Central line train, and jumped on ready to get to my favourite station (not), Tottenham Court Road. The thing about TCR is that the Central line platforms are so bloody far away from anything, and we ran dodging people to the Northern line platforms where a northbound train was waiting. A bit of luck for the Goodge Street doubleback, which ran out when we pulled in to see a southbound train leaving. 3 minutes til the next one, and the clich├Ęd picture at Goodge Street taken. Back at Tottenham Court Road we had a two minute wait for a Central line train, which took us to Queensway and the final run of the day. Up the road, simple enough, except for one prat who jumped out on us and shouted "no running in the halls!" Had he jumped out a little bit further, I would've caught him a glancing blow on the jaw with my left shoulder, but I had to settle for smacking my wrist on a parking meter instead. At Bayswater the next train was a Circle line so we jumped on, checking the board for a District train following us. We had only three stations left, but a sub 3-hour time was out of the question - we wanted to settle for beating 3 hours 15 minutes.

The minutes ticked away, and we jumped off at High Street Kensington to a four minute wait and time ticking away. Tempted by the Oreo McFlurry adverts we pondered the nearest McDonalds, before remembering we went in one by Earl's Court station the previous night. The train finally arrived, and we reached Earl's Court to a final time of 3:16:23. After getting our McFlurries and posing with the tardis outside, we made our way to the pub (being one of the last to arrive) handed in our time and had a much deserved bottle of cider. The presentation began, and we won best team name (I was proud, especially as I've been sitting on that for months) and came an honourable 12th place out of 21. We were 10 minutes behind second, and I reckon that if we hadn't been rude in the lifts at Gloucester Road we would've had a much higher finish. Still, thoroughly enjoyed the day, as did Olli who can't wait for next year!

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