How One Man Is Keeping the Spirit of the Olympics Alive, With His Tube Challenge

By Jacob Lewis on at

For two magical weeks, London usurped Disneyland to become the happiest place on earth. Underground passengers made eye contact (and occasionally spoke!); there were smiling faces on every street corner ready to lend a hand, and impromptu al fresco day-drinking sessions blossomed in front of big-screen TVs.

But now, the festive atmosphere has all but disappeared, replaced by the so-called 'Olympic hangover'. The tube slips back to its dreary atmosphere as commuters recede into their Metro newspapers, and the memory of sporting glory fades into a distant memory.

So how do we bring back that warm, fuzzy, Olympic feeling? With a feat of marathon-like endurance and athletic prowess on the Underground system, of course.

Adham Fisher has just such an urban sport. The 27-year-old “athlete” from Leicester is obsessed with visiting every underground station in record time, and has been to every station in 15 cities’ transport systems as part of his time trial obsession. And if you think Kath Grainger had it tough, spare a thought for Adham, who has yet to gain a Guinness World Record for his endeavours, despite 12 failed attempts in London alone. It's the city where it's known as the "Tube Challenge," with the London Underground network being the only system where Guinness considers world-records for the transport challenge.

I spoke to Adham about his odd hobby, asking him for some tips on how Giz readers can add some athletics to their summer tube rides, but first, demanded to know why he's chosen this bizarre sport as a hobby.

After a long pause, Adham speaks: "I always liked the tube and wondered if it were possible to go to every single station in a day, and then discovered there was a world record for it."

Adham might bring back some Olympic atmosphere to the tube, but he'll also likely piss off a few commuters while doing so. To be a world class tube-chaser, he has to sprint between stations when changing lines, and can often end up ruthlessly pushing past queuing rush-hour pedestrians in his determination to finally get a world record. I ask how far he’s willing to go in his pursuit of the prize? Does he grab doors and force them open if he thinks he can make it? "Yes, unfortunately, sometimes I have to," he guiltily admits.

Isn’t that dangerous? "It can be," he says, and adds seriously, "Injuries can happen, like being whacked by a closing door." He tells me the Jubilee line’s double doors are especially forbidding, but Adham’s a determined athlete: "I was in London running between stations and had to go between an old lady and a tree, but I tripped over one of the roots, cut myself reasonably badly, but still carried on."

Besides a tube map, I ask, is there any special clothing or equipment needed for the feat? "Just a normal top or t-shirt, tracksuit bottoms or shorts; it’s useful if you carry as little as possible. I have a 6 litre hydration rucksack and camera, which I use to take photos of every stop I reach."

But don’t go thinking you can be an almost-record breaking underground athlete overnight; these tube challenges are serious business. When Adham knows he has a record attempt coming up, he’ll prepare by doing some running and cycling to stay fit. "I’ve been told I can run quickly," he says, "but when I have to run two miles between stations it can get a little tiring."

Those attempting the "Tube Challenge" also need the TFL-equivalent of "The Knowledge"; the ingrained sense of direction (most) black cab-drivers learn when navigating the streets of London. Adham tells us that "research is needed to plan a route; knowing where everything is geographically and which carriage and door to be at on each train to be closest to the approaching exit," adding that "this activity is unique in that regardless of ability, a participant must rely on the Tube running to its timetable throughout the day, which almost never happens as there might be delays and closures. It is very much a game of luck."

While Adham takes his sport seriously, his best-ever effort resulted in a 17 hours and 17 minutes sprint; almost an hour more than the current Guinness Word Record, which is 16 hours and 29 minutes, set by Andi James and Steve Wilson in May 2011.

Understandably, these attempts keep Adham busy, but that's not where his train-based passions end: he writes songs about them too. In fact, he’s managed to find like-minded enthusiasts worldwide, and has put together a whole album of songs dedicated to various public transport systems. There’s everything, from a very dodgy barbershop quartet about Edgware Road, to an alphabetical list of French metro stations, set to weird electronic beats.

If you fancy trying out some tube-chasing yourself, Adham suggests starting off by trying to reach one tube station from each line in a day. Although, I must add, I did check the tube map and I’m pretty sure that’s just a round trip on the circle line.

Maybe we’re better off just waiting 'till the Paralympics for more athletics.

Top image credit: BBC