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The London UnderRound: a city ultra between Tube stations

Named the London UnderRound (after the Bob Graham Round), this challenge is like a marathon of stairs

If you’ve ever taken the London Underground, you know that it involves a lot of stairs. Imagine running from one Tube station to another, including all those stairs. That’s exactly what British ultrarunners Tom Wake and Peter Smith did on Saturday. It’s called the London UnderRound, and it involves “linking” 42 Tube stations, for 48K (slightly longer than a marathon) and 914m of elevation change. It was an ambitious project that took them five hours and 45 minutes.

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Devised by coach Rory Coleman, who boasts the distinction of having completed more editions of the Marathon des Sables than any other Briton (he did his 15th last year), the London UnderRound is an “urban Bob Graham Round” requiring participants to link not 42 peaks but 42 Underground stations, including running down the many flights of stairs, touching the yellow line on the subway platform, running back up and on to the next one.

Photo: Tom Wake/Strava

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Wake, who is lead developer at a marketing agency, captured the challenge data on Strava. “What a day!” he wrote on his Instagram. “It was a lot tougher than I’d imagined with the steps, and also just navigating the route. As we tired, we made a few navigational errors, and as we headed back to the finish at Kings Cross St. Pancras we were both exhausted. We covered over 30 miles, 3,000 ft. of ascent and we even clocked a bonus station as we took a wrong turn at Bank!”

Wake (right) and Smith. Photo: Tom Wake/Strava

One commenter asked if they were let in for free, considering they weren’t actually taking any trains. “ahh, I wish!” Wake responded. “A day travel card sorted me out–apparently the Oysters have problems when you don’t actually go anywhere.” (Wake is referring to the Oyster card, similar to the Presto card used by some Ontario transit systems.)

Embed from Getty Images 

Wake told us that Oxford Street in particular was very busy at lunchtime, but he and Smith tried to go as quickly as possible without endangering people’s safety. “We tried to run between the stations as quickly as possible, taking back streets and running through parks… to avoid traffic and junctions… We ran the stairs as best as possible although it did sometimes turn into a quick walk up, especially after 20-plus miles. Going up Covent Garden was challenging with 193 steps.”  

Another commenter reported they were in the process of running all of London’s Underground routes by road, the longest of the five they’d done so far being the Piccadilly line, at 31 miles (49.6K).

Photo: Tom Wake/Strava

Yet another commenter described the project as “Bonkers, but brilliant.”

Smith is deputy head at a secondary school.

Wake is a Salomon ambassador.