It’s September 18th, and the heart of Oxford Circus pulsates with a unique energy that is a far cry from its usual cacophony of bustling streets and incessant traffic sounds. Now, the road has transformed into a stage for joyful interactions, where cheers and smiles replace the hurried steps of shoppers passing by. Amidst this lively backdrop, hundreds of runners clad in bright colours have converged around the iconic roundabout, grinding cars to a halt.
At the epicentre of this electrifying scene stands Jonny Davies, his grin stretching from ear to ear, radiating the contagious joy that fills the air. With a triumphant gesture, he lifts a banner high above his head, emblazoned with the words that have become the symbol of an extraordinary journey: "Jonny Davies Ran the Line.”
In the world of endurance running, there are challenges, and then there are those that redefine what's possible. Davies, a 6'4" former rugby player turned ultra-runner, recently embarked on a remarkable journey that pushed the limits of human endurance and showcased the power of inclusivity in the running community. He ran the entire London Tube network, spanning a formidable 572km. He ran from one station to the next above ground, passing 272 stations in total and running a Tube line a day over 11 days. Some days, that saw as “little” as 30km of running. Meanwhile, others, such as his final day when he ran the Central Line, had him running a distance of over 90km.
"Why would anybody voluntarily choose to put themselves through such a grueling challenge," I hear you ask. After all, we’re not talking about an organised race through empty country trails. We’re talking about ultra-running distances in the middle of London traffic.
Davies’ ambitious journey was sparked by a combination of factors, the most prominent being his desire to tackle a multi-day endurance challenge. The concept of training for something of this magnitude had long been on his mind. But what truly ignited the idea was a seemingly ordinary experience – he noticed people on social media walking the entire Victoria Line, one of London's shorter Tube lines. Davies thought, "why walk when you can run it?"
Surprisingly, long-distance running was far from Davies' radar for most of his life. As a rugby player, he was accustomed to fast bursts of sprinting, but not endurance. It was only by chance he stumbled upon the sport while on a work trip to Canada in 2020. His maiden 10km run was no walk in the park — we all remember what a first run feels like: screaming lungs, stitches pinching our waists. Ring any bells? – but the mental clarity he experienced after beckoned him back to the roads, day after day.
Fast-forward to 2023: with several ultra-runs now under his belt, Davies decided to set a new standard by running the length of the Victoria Line from start to finish. When he teased the idea for his epic plan in a video he shared on social media, it went viral, revealing the deep attachment Londoners have to their iconic Tube. Then the cogs started turning.
“I didn't realise how big the Tube was,” Davies confesses. “In my mind, I thought it was probably a couple of hundred kilometres, but when I mapped out the entire thing on Strava, using the Route Finder, I realised it was 572km. I was shocked,” he explains. There was no turning back now. The seed had been planted, and after speaking with his coach in April, they decided to forge ahead. The start date was deliberately set for after the summer to beat the heat: September 7th.
Yet, as fate would have it, September had other plans in store, and an unseasonal heatwave washed over London during the opening days of the month. The first four days of Davies’ challenge turned out to be the four hottest days of the year, with the mercury hitting 34 degrees Celsius. Regardless, Davies remained resolute in his pursuit. His unwavering determination was fuelled by a powerful vision – one that saw the potential for his challenge to bring together people from different areas of London (and beyond) and make running accessible to everyone.
"I made the challenge possible for people to join me at any point along the way,” he explains. His mission was not just about completing a remarkable feat; it was about bringing people together, regardless of their background or running experience. He meticulously planned his route and made it available online for anyone who wanted to join him at any point during his journey. His goal worked. In the span of 11 days, nearly a thousand people ran alongside him, turning a solitary endeavour into a community event.
“There was no point during the entire challenge when I was on my own,” he remembers. “Even when I would start out at five in the morning, there was always someone who would show up. All I had to do was put the info up on my socials, and someone would be there the next day.”
It was clear his challenge was not just about running. It was also about encouraging others to step outside their comfort zones, inspiring newcomers to embrace running, and fostering community. The event offered an opportunity for meaningful conversations and connections among people from various walks of life.
Nevertheless, running the London Tube was not without its hurdles. The biggest challenge was the unexpected heatwave that greeted Davies and his team during the initial days of the run. The unique intricacies of running in a bustling metropolis added an additional layer of complexity. Patience was tested as Davies navigated London's busy streets with a support team on bikes. At other points, the team faced the wrath of Heathrow Airport’s security guards, had to handle painful blisters, and worked around Tube lines splitting into multiple directions.
All in all, Davies’ patience was tested time and again. “It wasn’t just a case of being physically tested,” Davies says, “it was also about being emotionally tested. I was really proud of the fact that no matter what happened, I wasn't throwing my toys out of the pram and throwing hissy fits. I stayed in a good mood the entire time.”
However, the journey wasn’t just a succession of challenges. One of the most memorable moments was when Davies had the opportunity to run alongside an 18-year-old named Youssef. Despite facing numerous personal challenges in his life, Youssef displayed exceptional determination and resilience. Inexperienced in the world of running, he joined Davies on multiple days, even accomplishing an impressive 40km distance on one occasion. Davies encouraged Youssef to confront his insecurities and set running goals for the future. Their connection exemplified the true spirit of this challenge – empowering others to overcome obstacles and realise their dreams.
The emotional peak of Davies' epic journey was at the finish line, when hundreds gathered at Oxford Circus, a powerful symbol of the unity and inspiration his challenge had sparked. The sight of Oxford Circus’ traffic frozen in time will forever be etched in his mind.