I heard about the underround a few years ago, several weekends of hills, mud, cliffs, wind and rain must have triggered a long-lost memory because early in the week I found myself searching for it on Google. It didn’t take long before I found Rory Coleman’s website with the details I was looking for:
underroundTM is an ‘anytime’ running challenge of circa 42km visiting 42 London Underground stations totally on foot. The added twist is to go to all of the 42 platforms as well using the stairs or escalators, on the clockwise journey around London’s Famous Streets. The circuit has over 30km between stations and thousands of metres of climb/descent underground that will make this a real ‘Marathon Challenge’ you will want to add to your Running CV.
A bit more Googling revealed a few blog reports from challengers gave me an idea of the route and what to expect. Rory charges £10 for details of the route and the honour of being included on the leaderboard so I emailed him and within a couple of hours had transferred the money and received detailed route instructions by email. To be honest, I had all the information to do it without paying Rory, but £10 isn’t going to break the bank and the instructions were good. Plus, I have a lot to thank Rory and the old ULTRArace series for – that’s how I got into ultras!
Over the next few days I looked at the route and tube stations, being relatively unfamiliar with the streets of Central London and the tube station layouts it was going to be a bit of a voyage of discovery.
The adventure started at 05:22 on Saturday, a bit of a lie-in after recent weeks where I’ve been up at 04:00. After a quick shower and coffee it was off to Cardiff train station to get the 06:25 to London. A relatively pain-free journey got me into Paddington at 08:30 and then a short hop to King’s Cross on the tube getting in just before 09:00.
Originally I’d planned to put my bag into the free lockers at the British Library but was a bit early so decided to suck-up the £10 left luggage charge at King’s Cross instead. As I headed to the facility I noticed a group of people in Lycra with backpacks at the meeting point, some were carrying maps… Weirdos! I did my superman impression, shedding the civilian clothes and stripping down to my running gear, checked-in the bag and headed off to the Departures board at King’s Cross.
Part 1 – the fast bit and learning how to take a selfie
At 09:25 I hit “Go” and headed out of King’s Cross on my adventure, straight over the road and onto the first tube station which I’d just come from. The travel card worked perfectly sending me in and out efficiently and before I knew it I was heading down towards the next tube station at Euston.
Ahead of me were another couple of runners with maps, and just behind me a few more suspicious-looking individuals. As I came out of Euston it was obvious I wasn’t alone in my challenge. I shouted a hello to a couple of chaps coming out of Warren Street and then at Great Portland Street passed a group coming the other way.
“Are you doing the Underround?” a girl asked me…
“Yes”, I replied… “On my own – are you in an organised event?”
Apparently this girl, Laura I think had organised an event on the same course, on the same day, starting at the same time! What are the odds? Anyway – I was on a mission so left them to it and carried on my mission.
Things were pretty fast and furious through this section, tourists were low in volume so it was quick going through Paddington and onwards towards the next phase where the tourists roam. I think I’d almost learnt how to take a “selfie” by the time I got to Paddington – I’ll leave that to you to decide if that’s good or bad.
Part 2 – Tourist Zombie Apocalypse
Once through Paddington I was into Bayswater, then Notting Hill and then the big, long stretch up Oxford Street. I wasn’t looking forward to this bit at all.
Queensway had the first big set of stairs and I passed the last group of runners that I saw coming back up them, the two chaps recognised me as a runner doing the course and said hello. No idea what happened to them as they were the last ones I saw.
Continuing up the long stretch to Holborn the pedestrian traffic got worse and I resorted to running in the bus lane for most of it. The tube stations were frequent and broke things up but it was quite slow and stop-and-go for most of this section.
To be honest I quite enjoyed the sights, Covent Garden and the fearful steps weren’t too bad. All the human statues in Leicester Square made me laugh and there were plenty of places to grab a bottle of water. Nobody shouted at me or got in my face which I was a bit worried about before hand, I guess it’s all karma – if you go out happy, people reflect that back at you!
Part 3 – the posh bit
Once through the tourist shopping bits the route took me off towards Buckingham Palace, the Ritz and Westminster. I’m totally unfamiliar with this bit of London and it was great to see.
I was, however starting to crash – on reflection my calories were really low and I think I’d only had 400-500 calories up until then and probably only around 1000 total on the day. But slowing down allowed me to appreciate the sights.
Westminster was packed around Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and it took ages to get through there and onto the Embankment. The skyline on the embankment was amazing with all the new skyscrapers, the Shard, Walkie Talkie and London Eye and it was cool to run up beside the river checking into the tube stations at regular intervals.
Part 4 – Bringing it home
I came off the embankment and started the last section back through Bank, Liverpool Street, Barbican and the fearful final 175 steps of Russell Square.
By this point my energy reserves were gone and I was reduced to a bit of a run/shuffle/walk strategy. Thankfully the tube stations were frequent and broke up the pain.
I got a bit lost around Liverpool Street and Barbican, ending up in a housing complex and inside the Barbican centre somehow but eventually managed to get to Russell Square – the final tube station.
Final it may be, but Russell Square has a huge staircase down to the platform! With gritted teeth I headed down and then back up the 175(000) steps to the surface and then onto the finish at King’s Cross half a mile away. A few minutes later I was back at “Arrivals” board and it was all over. 6 hours, 14 minutes and 44 seconds later…
It was fun, a great day out but tough, really tough… To be honest the terrain was fine, the steps, ramps and escalators hurt but not as much as a good mountain. The real killer on this challenge was the stop-start unpredictability, tourists, traffic lights, buses, taxis etc.
I’d recommend it to anyone as a brilliant way to spend a day out in “the big smoke”, do it with a friend or two you wouldn’t want to be in a bigger group than that. Stop at a pub or two as well, it’d probably make things more interesting 🙂