Full Circle

Yesterday, my mum and I somehow managed the entire Circle line – all 21.7 miles of it, even the extra bit out to Hammersmith. In 10 hours we covered the best part of 23 miles, including stoppages and slightly getting lost, and we made it to the end damp, utterly knackered but in excellent spirits.

We arrived at Paddington at about 9.15am and set off round the circle. We’d decided to do the circular bit first so that we could decide whether or not to continue on the extra leg, and we wanted to come up Queensway at the end of the circle, so we hit Edgware Road next.

This is a genuinely fantastic walk – going through central London and past some amazing landmarks. Walking from Kings Cross to Farringdon is the longest stretch in the first half, and probably the most boring, except for one moment when you crest a slight hill and suddenly see St Paul’s and the Shard on the skyline in the distance.

Everything went fairly well until we decided to cut through Liverpool Street Station from the back entrance by the enormous bronze sculpture. We came out the front and went left instead of straight on, and ended up doing two sides of a triangle and walking past Aldgate from the wrong direction.

We were amazingly lucky with the weather for the most part. One intense downpour hit just as we were eating sausage and bacon sandwiches in the Embankment Cafe, but apart from that we made it round to Paddington only slightly showered upon.

We weren’t quite so lucky after we decided to carry on. We had a half pint in the Dickens Tavern before we took on the last 5.7 miles from Paddington to Hammersmith. I’m glad we did, because I didn’t feel like I’d really pushed myself when we got round the circle – but goodness me the last three miles were extremely hard work.

We had to hide in a florist near Ladbroke Grove, and when another really intense downpour struck we were in the wide open near Shepherd’s Bush. We ended up huddled under a bus shelter, and I was seriously considering packing it in. But thankfully the rain held off and the sun came out a little as we did the final stretch.

Infuriatingly, we went past at least 5 stations that weren’t on the Circle Line and therefore didn’t count. For the record, I’ve walked past Shepherd’s Bush, Regents Park, Aldgate East, Euston and Marylebone, and probably at least a couple of others. Big day. All that for 35 stations – 32 of them new, putting me over 50 stations for the first time.

If I was doing it again, I’d definitely reverse the order and do the extra 6 miles first – Hammersmith to Paddington is definitely the least interesting part of the walk, and I think it’d be much easier and more morale-boosting to be completing the circle at the end.

I hadn’t realised till I started properly planning this walk that the Hammersmith and City line follows the exact same path as the Circle line around this stretch, and only has a (relatively) small branch that splits off to go north-east. So I’ve decided to count yesterday’s walk as 2/3 of the Hammersmith and City line as well. Because it’s my crazy plan so I can. So there.

Thank you to everyone who’s donated so far – and most of all thank you to my mum, without whom I would never have gotten to Hammersmith.

Jubilation – and a circular challenge

May was not a good month for walking. I had two stretches of the Jubilee line planned, but was sadly thwarted twice – once by a stomach bug, and once by planned engineering works, which I should probably have checked out beforehand.

But June has been better, thankfully – last Saturday I managed 15.1 miles of the line, going from Stanmore to Green Park. 16 stations in total (though I’d already passed Green Park once), in glorious sunshine for the most part.

Starting at Stanmore is a really pleasant walk, passing through leafy suburbs and quiet streets for a fair few miles before you start to get into London proper. The walk out to Wembley is just beautiful, as it passes through a nature reserve that I didn’t know existed, and although it’s unpleasantly hilly for a little while the green grass and meadow more than make up for the incline.

I took a short pause at West Hammersmith for a sly half pint at the Railway pub (it seemed appropriate), and though I’d planned to only go as far as Bond Street, by the time I got there I still felt like I had a few miles left in me. But as I hit Green Park the rain started to fall in big fat drops, and I took the executive decision to head home before I got drenched.

It was a really great day – much more relaxed than the last one because I knew I could do it, and because there wasn’t the pressure to finish the whole thing completely that I’d felt with the Victoria Line.

This coming weekend I’m going to be walking again – this time with company. My mum is coming from Birmingham on Friday evening to spend the whole of Saturday walking the Circle Line. At this point we’re not sure how far we’ll get. We’re starting at Paddington and planning to walk at least the whole way round the circle – 27 stations, 16 miles, so with a couple of stops that should be fine.

Whether or not we do the extra leg to Hammersmith as well – another 9 stations and 5.7 miles – remains to be seen. Wish us luck – and if you can, please sponsor us!

Go go gadget legs!

Mirrored signs

I made it. Yesterday I walked 15 miles across London, visiting every station from Walthamstow Central to Brixton along the Victoria Line.

Well, I say 15 miles. It was probably closer to 16 in reality, because I got mixed up and walked the wrong way at Seven Sisters for a while, and then got totally confused by Kings Cross St Pancras and ended up turning round three times before I finally managed to find Euston. I have the natural sense of direction of a concussed duck.

Anyway! Batteries held out, food was good – pretty certain that bulla bread is basically the same as the elven waybread the hobbits ate in Lord of the Rings – and thanks to the decent pair of trainers I picked up when I started this whole mad thing, no blisters to speak of. Legs ache in a good way, and I seem to have developed unexpected thigh muscles overnight. And I can cross 16 more stations off my list.

When I was 14 I was desperately unwell. I almost passed out while trying to run the 800 metres in a PE lesson – I remember the grass under my feet swimming, and for a while it felt like I was trying to run across the sky. I was eating perhaps half the calories I needed a day, because I was convinced I didn’t deserve to eat; looking back, it’s clear I was underweight. And I was often shaking or sick from shock, because of how badly and how often I was hurting myself.

Yesterday I walked more than 15 miles.

Achievement unlocked: Go Go Gadget Legs!

I got worse before I got better. Much worse. But I did get better, and Mind were a big part of that. Without their services I would have fallen through the cracks in NHS mental healthcare provision more than once – and so would many other people I love.

One of Mind’s ongoing campaigns is to stamp out the stigma against mental illness that exists in the UK today. I’m still frightened of speaking about it – this blog post is pretty scary to write – but it’s part of supporting their work. I shouldn’t have anything to fear from talking about my problems, and neither should anyone else. And I’m living proof that with the right kind of help and a lot of fighting, it can get better.

Between 1 in 6 and 1 in 4 adults in the UK suffer mental illness at any one time. If you or anyone you know (hi!) has benefited from the services Mind offers, please donate to support them. I’m plotting a few things I can do to say thank you for donations – but if you’ve any ideas, please share them.

Victoria Line, here I come

Momentarily alone (again) on the Victoria line by red_rooster82, on Flickr

It looks like a fine day tomorrow to walk the Victoria Line.

This is the first big one – end to end, 14.6 miles long, which I’m expecting to take more than 6 hours all told, once you include time spent sitting down half way through. I’ve packed bananas, chocolate, bulla bread and a very large amount of water for the trip.

I’ll be walking past 15 stations, from Walthamstow Central to Brixton, and the current plan is to stop somewhere near Kings Cross for some sort of food. The plan is to track my progress along the way using Instagram to take pictures of each station, checking in at Foursquare, and posting to Facebook and Tumblr. I’m also hoping to use Google Latitude to actually track my progress live. In theory, you’ll be able to follow me at this link and live on this map:



Wish me luck. Oh, and please sponsor me! I’m pretty sure that by 3pm tomorrow I’ll really, really need your support – and Mind need it whether or not I do.

Waterloo & City – done!

One down, 11 to go.

Or, to put it more into perspective, 2 down, 266 to go.

Grant did the walk with me, as it was such a short one – the route we walked came in at 1.9 miles, from Bank station past St Paul’s Cathedral, over the Millennium Bridge, and past the Tate Modern before hitting Waterloo station.

It was a nice, leisurely stroll, and a great, non-threatening way to get started. Now, just another few hundred miles of walking, and I’ll be done…

The next walk is planned for either next Saturday or Sunday, and will be end-to-end along the Victoria line, coming in at about 15 miles in total. If you can sponsor me, please do – I desperately need the morale boost, and Mind need the money. And if you already have, then thank you enormously.

The first line

So. I’ve been lax about posting here, but I’ve not been skimping on the training. I’ve started walking home from work – just over 6 miles in total, from Vauxhall to Tooting – a couple of times a week. On Tuesday I managed to work in some running too, running for 2.5 minutes at a time 12 times, which by my reckoning works out at half an hour.

I’m pretty sure I’ve never run for half an hour in my life before.

On Thursday I walked 7 miles from Vauxhall to Stratford – my god that’s a bleak walk towards the end, once you get the far side of Bow. All industrial buildings, building sites, the Olympic park squatting on your left and everything looking terribly Marie Celeste at gone 7pm. The nice thing from my perspective was that the walk went cross-Tubes, so I won’t be repeating it as part of the main event.

I’ve been gearing up for today, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a bit of an anti-climax. Today I’m doing the Waterloo & City line.

At just over 2 miles of walking, this should be an absolute breeze unless I somehow manage to fall in the Thames on the way. There are two stations, Waterloo and Bank. The current plan is to start after lunch at Waterloo and take a nice, leisurely stroll to Bank. Then, if I’m feeling particularly cocky, I might do it again backwards. Please note, this is not something I’ll be attempting on any of the other lines.

The nice thing about today, for all it’ll feel very easy after what I’ve been working on, is that I will be properly started at last. It’ll be one down, 10 to go, and I can say to folks who have yet to donate that at least it’s a work in progress.

And, of course, it’s all good practice for the Victoria Line, all 15 miles of which is planned for next Saturday…

Planning: the outline


One month in to the training programme, and already it’s started to make a real difference to my fitness. I’m up to running two whole minutes at a time – don’t laugh, this is a big deal for me – and with luck and perseverance I’m on track to finish the first major training stretch at the end of March. At that point, in theory, I’ll be able to run for 6 miles or so without stopping, and I’ll be starting to do endurance & strength training for my legs.

So between the end of March and the end of December, the Tube lines. There are 11 lines in total, and the plan is to walk as many as possible end-to-end in single days. But the sheer length of some lines means that’s not going to be possible – even if I’m fit enough to walk all day, some of them are 45 miles long. And some of the lines have multiple end points, and I’m still planning how to tackle them.

Here’s the plan – at least, as far as I’ve worked it out so far…

First, the Waterloo & City line – at about 2 miles long and with only 2 stations this should be by far the easiest, so it makes sense to me to do it first. So probably the first or second weekend in April will be the right time to start – and I’m going to be recruiting some walking buddies to come and do the easy one with me and help raise some cash.

The Victoria Line is relatively straightforward and not too horrendously long, coming in at just under 15 miles from Walthamstow Central to Brixton. Hopefully this will be the second walk, on the third or fourth weekend in April.

The Circle Line is actually not too bad, at 21.5 miles. Definitely a challenge, but I’m going to give it a go as a single-day walk – after all, if I get tired or can’t make it round in time, I can always hop on a Tube and head home, and finish it another day. Aiming to do this one in May, when it’s not too hot but the evenings are getting lighter.

The Jubilee Line is well over 47 miles and totally impossible to do in a day – I’m thinking of splitting it into three chunks of 15 miles or so each, and walking those in May and June.

The Bakerloo Line is a straightforward one that, at just under 18 miles, should be achievable in a day. The central London sections will be slow, but I reckon it should be possible to walk within 6 hours, so that’ll be a full Saturday in June.

The Hammersmith & City Line at about 21 miles should be another full Saturday’s walk, most likely in July.

The Piccadilly Line is unexpectedly huge – more than 35 miles even if you ignore the Uxbridge branch completely – so I’m splitting it into two or three chunks. Haven’t decided what I will do when yet, but most likely each will be 10-15 miles long, and will be completed during July and August.

The District Line is an absolute sod, what with having no less than 5 branch endings – but by the time I get to this one in August I’ll already have walked most of its length along the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines. I’m going to treat the remaining walk as Ealing Broadway to Wimbledon – possibly via Richmond depending on how fit I’m feeling and how long it takes.

The Metropolitan Line is another unexpectedly large one at 35 miles from Chesham to Aldgate station. I’m going to try and do this one in two chunks of about 17 miles each during September.

The Central Line is a tricky one, as it’s 45 miles long and goes right through central London. So the plan is to split it into 3 and walk it in chunks during October. Provisionally, the plan is to go Epping to Liverpool Street, West Ruislip to Notting Hill Gate, and finally Liverpool Street to Notting Hill Gate on Hallowe’en weekend dressed as a zombie, with as many zombie shuffling friends as I can manage to bring with me to do a street collection as we go.

Finally, the Northern Line – this is my home line at the moment, though I suppose by November it might not be any more. Still, it’s a long one – by my reckoning, 23.4 miles going from High Barnet to Morden via Charing Cross – and I reckon it should be possible to do in a day if I get a move on. So this will be the home stretch, sometime in November.

There are going to be various branch lines and bitty pieces that won’t get walked, under this plan – and I reckon that’s fine. I might try and fit in a few of the branches I haven’t mapped into the longer walks while I’m training, or in December when I’ve completed most of the map, or I might incorporate them into the challenge later on – or I might not do them.

This challenge is going to evolve and change as it goes on, but this is my basic blueprint for how it’s going to pan out.

My legs are going to be so sore…

Running wrong

Last night we went running and for the first time Grant ran behind me, and took a look at how I ran. He realised something a bit odd – I wasn’t picking up my feet or swinging my arms the way you should if you’re running. I hadn’t realised, but when I thought I was jogging I was in fact doing something closer to race-walking.

I know it sounds completely ridiculous to suggest I wouldn’t know what my body was doing – but this is part of why this is a real challenge for me. I don’t have a great relationship with my body at the best of times. I don’t know it well; I don’t know its capacities or capabilities, where it works well and where it doesn’t; I don’t know how to use it. Yet. I’m desperately sad that it’s taken me 26 years to work out something so basic as this, but happy that it’s finally happened.

On the way home I ran properly. I ran downhill and Grant sang the free-running music from Assassin’s Creed, which is fantastically free-flowing and evokes big wide-arm-stretched I-am-running feelings, and I ran, and it felt good.

So this is a good thing, because I’m finally getting to know my body. And it’s a bad thing, because I’m doing nowhere near as well as I thought in terms of training. But it’s good in the long run, because now I know what was going wrong, why my calves and knees were hurting but my thighs weren’t, why I couldn’t keep up with Grant. Now I can get better at this.

So yay. Mostly.

Training, week 3

Yesterday, Grant and I went for a walk. It’s the third week of training, and I’m using the Couch to 10k app on the iPhone as a way to get me started. I’m not kidding when I say I’ve never done exercise before, and luckily the app isn’t kidding when it says it starts off at the lowest level.

Just before New Year, I started the programme. I wanted to start before January 1, because otherwise I’d be one of those January people who get all overexcited and overdo exercise in the first two weeks of the year and then stop completely and never start again. To be honest, I doubt the one 54-minute session actually made much difference in real life, but it did make a difference psychologically – by the time I started putting this website together and talking about A Series Of Tubes on Twitter, I’d already started. That helps.

The idea behind the programme is basic interval training. To begin with, you run for 30 seconds and walk for 4 and a half minutes, repeated 8 times over the course of nearly-an-hour. Slowly you increase the time spent running and decrease the time spent walking, and after 13 weeks, the theory goes, you can run for 55 minutes without stopping.

I am, frankly, sceptical – but so far it’s going well. After three weeks I’m up to running for a minute and a half at a time with 3.5min recovery periods – and I haven’t asphyxiated or fallen over yet. I’m clearly not ready to run a marathon yet, but I’m already able to run further than I’ve ever managed before in my life. (This should tell you quite a lot about how much running I’ve done before in my life…)

I’m also using Runkeeper to track my training, and looking into it as an option for live-tracking the walk itself, but so far I don’t have any friends on there. I could use some encouragement, so if you use it and you’d be happy to buddy up, let me know.

A series of Tubes

So. I’m going to walk the Tube lines. Overground, I hasten to add, and the point of the walk isn’t to follow the tunnels precisely. What I’m hoping to do is walk between stations and try to cover as many lines as possible end-to-end in a single day.

For some, that’s going to be very easy – the Waterloo and City line, for instance, is about 2 miles long in total. For others, it’s going to be very, very hard. I’m hoping to train to a point where I can walk 25-30 miles in a day – and that’s no small task, believe me, because I’ve never done any sort of systematic exercise before.

For most of my life, the most important things I’ve focussed on have been mental challenges. I’ve fought mental health issues and battled to stay strong in all sorts of ways, but I’ve neglected my body in the process. Thanks to a huge array of charities and professionals, including mental health charity Mind, I’m finally in a place where I don’t have to worry about my brain so much any more – and it’s time to try a physical challenge for a change.

But I don’t want this to just be a simple get-fit-for-the-new-year resolution. I want a real challenge – and in the process I want to give something back. So I’m asking people to sponsor me in my madness, and give money to Mind. The best way to do this is by donating here, but if you’d rather not donate online you can email me at mary@aseriesoftubes.co.uk, or come along to a Tube station during one of my walks and donate in person.

The name of the challenge, “A Series of Tubes”, is simultaneously a pretty accurate description of what I’m doing and a nod to US Senator Ted Stevens, who notoriously described the internet that way while discussing problems he’d had with email going wrong. It’s a hilariously wrong description of how the internet works, and it strikes me that it’s also a pleasingly close-but-not-quite wrong-headed description of how the brain works too.