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On the day - A guide to help you!
With many thanks to Paul Webb (a participant) for writing this guide from a personal point of view - he has done this challenge (almost) as many times as me (Geoff), and he has some excellent words of wisdow to share with you all.
So, you have signed yourself up to the type of challenge that people write books about. You have raised your sponsorship and told everybody about what an adventure you are going on. You have planned your route, booked your accommodation for the night before and arranged transport to Amersham for 0515.
You are genuinely exited about what you will be doing, about having a life changing experience and a whole new set of stories to tell at the pub. People you have never met before will know about you, what you have done and will want to know you. Then you stop and think, and the sheer horror of what you have got yourself involved in starts to creep in:
You are going to be spending about 20 hours on a tube trains, and walking around 10 kilometres !!
This is possibly one of the hardest things that you have ever done or will ever do. I know regular marathon runners who would not even contemplate attempting what you have put your name down for. I have kayaked down white water, climbed mountains, skydived, hitch-hiked across Europe, walked solidly for just under 24 hours, but nothing I have done compares to the emotional and physical trial that is the Tube Challenge.
The following notes are the lessons I have learned from two full attempts plus numerous lengthy recees. These are things that have worked for me, and might work for you. Some of them may help you get through the day a little more comfortably. But please remember, I am not a trained nutritionist, survival expert, first aider or anything else – this advice is from my own personal experience only and the final decision always rests with you.
The Day Before.
The night before I did an extensive recee of the system I stopped on the floor of a friend’s house. Good mate that he is, he thought he would make me feel welcome by buying a takeaway curry. This, washed down by a couple of tins of lager, was great. At 0500 the next morning it didn’t feel so great. By the time I was hitting Zone 1 I felt the need to part company with it – not a great feeling when you are running through the tunnels at Green Park to get that vital connection.
Start thinking about your diet a few days before the attempt. The runner’s favourite of pasta with cheese sauce is a good meal the night before: not spicy, easy to digest, full of carbohydrates which will burn slowly through the next day. Avoid (too much) alcohol. Even if you are immune to hangovers, alcohol will dehydrate you and will lower your vitamin C levels. This can make you feel a bit grotty the next day and will make you deplete any water stocks you take with you.
Get plenty of sleep over the few days preceding your attempt – this will help you keep alert during the attempt.
Have a Plan B
Even just getting around the entire network is an achievement in itself and is difficult enough when the system is running well, and if you are running late then you should be prepared to miss out parts of the network in order to get to the finish at Upminster. You don’t want to be on the last train to Uxbridge if your lift home is waiting for you at the other side of the tube map.
If you are falling behind time then there are stretches of line that it is easy to miss out without compromising your general route. The entire Hainault Loop, Mill Hill East, the Heathrow Spur are obvious areas, but have a look at your route and try to pick a few more areas you can easily bypass if you start to slip behind schedule.
Think about a refuge point as well, a place you can go to if you need to drop out of the attempt. Mine is Euston Station since it has cafes, shops, good mobile reception inside and is near the intersection of a number of lines. My wife (Mrs Webb) will be there for much of the day offering support, so feel free to join her there before heading to Upminster (or wherever) to join the rest of your team when they have finished.
To make a pretty obvious statement, mobile phones do not work underground. There may be times that you want to get a message out, for example to another team member if you get separated, or try to get information in. This is particularly important in the ‘current climate’ where if there is an occurrence you may want to assure people that everything is OK. Nominate a ‘dead letter office’, somebody with constant network access that you can call when you are above ground and who can relay a message on to somebody else when they are above ground. Having somebody with access to the internet or transport information is useful as they can give you updates on news.
(There is a map on Geoff's website here which shows exactly which parts of the underground really are underground, and give a good idea of mobile coverage.)
Think about first aid supplies
Personally I see no need to carry ‘traditional’ first aid supplies (eg, antiseptic cream, bandages etc). If you need them you should go to a first aid point in the system or go to your refuge point. Mrs Webb will have a first aid kit with her at Euston which anybody is welcome to make use of. If your injury is bad enough to need immediate treatment them maybe you need to drop out of the attempt and go to the refuge point anyway.
You might want to think about taking a few items to help with injuries to your legs. Tube Challenge is quite hard on the knees and ligaments: it is a result of lengthy periods of sitting down followed by quick bursts of energy. It is difficult to keep the muscles warm all day, and this is how the injuries occur.
Stairs (which there are a lot of in the system) are also pretty hard on the legs. Now, I know that we are not supposed to be running on this attempt, but if you are in Kennington and you see the direct train to Mill Hill East just about to depart, I suspect that you may put on a turn of speed. The combination of high impact running on stairs plus cold muscles may cause problems. To help you get through this, bring along an ankle and a knee support to put on in case anything ‘goes’. Pain killers will also help, as will a tube of Deep Heat.
A suitable blister treatment for your feet may also prove useful, especially the sort that cushion your feet such as Compeed.
You may need a spare ticket
As well as your knees taking a battering, so will your ticket. Travel cards are not really designed to take the hammering that they do during a Tube Challenge, and I have destroyed more than one through over use, creasing and soaking in sweat. If you are doing a record attempt I would advise buying a spare ticket at a convenient time once you get into the off peak period (hopefully your first ticket will have lasted this long). This avoids aggravation if your ticket dies during a not so convenient time. However, as this is not a record attempt, try to make sure that you have the means to buy a spare ticket later on.
Oystercards are also generall not a good idea to use, because they "time out" after a period of time - one that you are likely to exceed when on the tube challenge. They did not bear in mind someone entering the system, going round part of it just for the hell of it, and exiting it again when they designed Oyster! So stick to paper tickets.
Twenty hours is a bloody long time of anything, and you can be pretty sure that you will get hungry. Oddly, though, I never get that hungry. Again I think this is down to the running (which can kill your appetite) and sitting down (which makes you lethargic) that makes it hard to digest too much at once. Thus I recommend that you pack a number of small meals to tuck into throughout the day. Try to mix your quick energy boosts with slow burners. The slow burns will get you through the day as a whole, with the quick ones giving you a vital boost every so often
For quick burns pack fruit and chocolate. Be careful what fruit you take – bananas should be ideal, but try eating a banana that has been at the bottom of your hot rucksack for 15 hours. Not nice. Apples are generally OK but can bruise, so think about raisins, sultanas and that kind of thing as well. Take chocolate with you. Don’t rely on the dispensers on the station platforms: half of them will not work and you need to carry change around with you.
Energy boost sweets, such as glucose tablets are good for when you have an energy dip, but do not have too many or you will be trying to maintain a high energy level for too long which will just exhaust you over the whole tube attempt.
For slower burn stuff, think starchy items. Cake is good and some biscuits. Rye bread is surprisingly good. It tastes like shite but gives you a major lift for quite a long time. Ever wondered why the Germans are so good at football? Now you know. Nuts (unsalted) also work.
Sometimes you can combine both classes in one item. Bounty bars are excellent (chocolate and nuts!), as are fruit muffins.
As I said, half the time you may not feel hungry, but try to give yourself regular meals in order to sustain yourself. A small meal every two or three hours or so, whether you want it or not, is probably the best approach to take if you want to get through the day.
When you have finished the attempt all of your hunger will suddenly come to the fore and you will have a craving for any type of easily digestible crap you can think of – McDonalds, KFC etc will taste like heaven. After a very long recee I ate a grim KFC at Morden which was pink all the way through and tepid, but I will swear that it was the best tasting meal I have ever eaten. Even if you have been a vegitarian for 15 years, you will be attacking a doner kebab like a pissed Mancunian student by the time it gets to 1:00am. All I am saying is, be prepared for this guilty pleasure. We won’t tell ...
You will get thirsty. Very thirsty. Think about how hot and dry you get on a normal tube journey. Then times it by 40. Then go for a run.
Water is undoubtedly the best drink to take with you, simply because it is water than your body is craving, so make that your staple.
You could also consider isotonic and some sports drinks. Energy drinks such as Lucozade do have their uses, especially during the latter stages of the attempt, but be careful about caffeinated drinks (which includes some, but not all, Lucozade products). Yes, caffeine does give you a high, but this is brought on by a release of adrenalin. Once the ‘hit’ has passed then your body goes into recovery mode and there is a soporific effect. This can last longer than the hit and you can feel pretty knackered for quite a long time afterwards.
The cure for this is another hit of caffeine, but they you get into a cycle of just needing more and more caffeine to stay awake – a bit like working in an office really. Due to the way that caffeine stimulates you, the fluid intake that you gain will be offset by the fluid lost through stimulation, so it is no way to sate your thirst. You will need coffee and water if you try this, so it is easier just to take the water. Like energy drinks, save the caffeine for late in the attempt when you are actually trying to stay awake. (The exception to this is if you are already addicted to caffeine and you need a cup of coffee just to operate normally – in these cases I would recommend that you just drink lots and lots of coffee)
Ah, yes, fags. Now whilst I can be a bit of a caffeine fascist, I am pretty mellow about smoking. Unfortunately TfL are not quite so understanding and don’t like you smoking in their trains, busses, stations etc. so you need to plan ahead. Plan when you can smoke (eg, waiting for a bus, standing at Mill Hill East, admiring the view at Epping) and judge when you will be at these points. Then simply count down the minutes to your next cigarette ...
Doing a poo!
Yes, we all poo. Live with it.
There is a good chance that during the 20 hours of your attempt you will need to go at some point, so, like with smoking, plan ahead. Have a look at www.geofftech.co.uk/tube/sillymaps/toilets.jpg, think about how regular your movements are and try to fit a change with a toilet stop. Personally I go on the platform at Preston Road at about 0710. (Geoff's favourite places to go are the toilets at: Mill HIll East or Finchley Central, Woodford, Stanmore and Richmond)
It can be advisable to take a certain amount of tissue with you, just in case the toilets are found wanting, but I have never had too much of a problem.
I know some people who take products like Imodium to help slow down the path of nature, but I have never found it necessary and frankly, after giving up the caffeine and eating the rye bread, things are difficult enough for the next few days without adding to them this way.
If you are tempted, have a look at the Imodium web site (www.imodium.com/page.jhtml?lid=home). If you follow the ‘Your Thoughts’ link you can tell complete strangers your amusing diarrhoea related anecdotes.
Don’t think style, think practical!
People are going to think you are a bit odd anyway when they find out what you are doing, so looking good is not a priority.
Jeans are heavy and do not dispel water away from your body if you get wet. Over the course of the day they will feel more uncomfortable and (if wet) cold.
Think either light wool (which does not absorb water the same way as cotton, and will dispel it more easily) or artificial fabrics. Walking or running trousers are best (including track suits). Also think about shorts, especially if you are a runner and are used to cold legs. You can be pretty certain that the Underground system will be warm in late August so the only points of worry for cold are the start and finish.
On my top I tend to wear lots of thin layers such as t-shirts, both long and short sleeve. As is gets hotter and colder through the day it is easy to regulate your temperature through the day by taking off and putting on layers. Again, artificial fibres are better than cotton, and ‘wicking’ fibres (material that takes water away from your body) are best of all.
Waterproofs are not really necessary since you will be under shelter most of the time and (providing you have the type of clothing I recommend) any wetness will soon evaporate.
Thick walking socks can help with lessening the impact of all of the walking and stairs, but you need to balance this with the extra warmth that will result.
Trainers/running shoes are best, followed by light shoes. Boots and high heals are a no-no.
Oh, and no baseball caps or hoodies – not in the current climate!
Carrying your stuff
Rucksacks are undoubtedly necessary to carry all of your gear, but be prepared to have them searched regularly and be given suspicious looks. Be prepared to tell people what you are doing and be understanding of their concerns. If you have or can get a mesh rucksack think about using it.