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Think You Can Outrun a Train? Mass Transit Racers Smoke City Streets



Are you faster than a train? The Adrenalists at Mass Transit Racers certainly think we are capable of outrunning a speeding subway, and they have the chops to prove it.

There are a lot of ways to get around in New York City. There’s the extensive subway system, buses galore and the occasional taxi cab. If you’re not looking for an automobile, then you can walk or run to your destination. It’s often easier and faster, however, to use New York City’s vast array of public transportation options. For two Columbia University students, however, the preferred method was always running even when most thought it faster simply to ride. To Pat Jeffers and Liam Boylan-Pett, riding another vehicle wasn’t nearly as fun as running. The two decided to devise a way to test their mettle against the machines, and Mass Transit Racers was born.

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At first, Mass Transit Racers was just something to do for fun, conceived of by Liam’s friend Jonah, when they were both undergraduate students at Columbia University. After Jonah beat the 1 train heading uptown from the 110th street stop to the 116th street stop, Liam, who ran track at Columbia, decided to give it a whirl. Eventually, Jonah, Liam and Pat beat the 1 train from 110th street to 116th street. A few years after Liam graduated from Columbia, Pat mentioned that he was starting a running club based off their train races from college. Some other Columbia runners and daredevils had tried train racing along the same stretch they had in college, but Pat was hoping to do something beyond that.

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Enter: Mass Transit Racers.

If you’re interested in competing in the next Mass Transit Race in New York, or the possible races they may be planning in other cities across the country, then follow their excellent Twitter feed and Instagram, where they send out updates when a race is getting together and post photos and congrats to those runners fast enough to beat the train. Recently, Pat set up an impromptu race in San Francisco, where he of course smoked the Trolley with a local.

We were able to get in touch with one of the co-founders of Mass Transit Racers, Liam, who also races professionally. Liam is currently in the middle of training, but he found some time to chat. Running is in his veins, and you can tell just by talking to him, he loves to go fast. After Liam saved up enough money with freelance writing and other odd jobs, he was able to start running professionally. The Adrenalist spoke with Liam about Mass Transit Racers, his own career and why running isn’t very popular in the U.S.

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Adrenalist: How did you guys come up with the idea behind Mass Transit Racers?

Liam Boylan-Pett: Back when I was a freshman at Columbia in 2004, the winter of 2004, I think. It wasn’t really a joke, but people always thought that you could beat the train from 110th to 116th if you were running against it. Honestly, I wasn’t the first one to do it, but I was the one that talked about it the most, and everyone at Columbia, still to this day, thinks I was the first one to do it. It was actually my buddy Jonah, who was one of my best buddies throughout college, who ended up doing it: beating it from 110th to 116th. And I ended up doing the same thing. I did it trying to impress some girls, unsuccessfully.

A: That’s how all great things start.

L: Yeah, mostly. I beat it and we both did it in the winter. It just became a fun thing that some Columbia kids would do. We didn’t dress up or anything and get ready for it. Every once in a while, and I’ve been out of college now for four or five years, but I’d hear about someone at Columbia that did it. Now Pat, he was two years younger than I was, and so he would be around when we were doing it and talking about it. He had never done it either, but then he was like ‘Hey, I’m trying to start this league,’ well not league, but this running club, ‘do you want to be involved?’ Now, December was our first one, and it’s been getting pretty big and we’ve been doing them for a while now.

A: It was Pat’s idea to organize it into some kind of structure?

L: Yeah, definitely. He’s been a big time planner for most of it. I’ve just sort of been there to hype it, I guess. Try and get people involved.

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A: Do you run professionally? We know you’ve been in training, so tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now.

L: Yeah, I run professionally with this club. It’s called the New Jersey New York Track Club. It’s just like 15-20 events a year, and we meet twice a week. Recently, I was able save up enough money where I was able to move out to New Jersey and live above a track. Right now, though, I’m able to live as a complete professional. That’s all I do, but I’ve done like freelance writing and stuff, but this is the first time where I’ve had running as my only focus.

A: What events do you run? What distances? Is MTR to considered training to professionals?

L: No, it’s not a training tool. For me, it’s just more of a running club for fun. Now that we’ve turned it into more of a community, it’s fun. I don’t use it for training. Right now, I’m training, so I’m not doing the train racing. It’s not a part of that.

A: Do you ever worry about getting injured when you’re racing trains?

L: Yes, that’s the reason I haven’t done it since we’ve been doing it as a set thing. I’m just an official. I don’t do it because I don’t want to get hurt. I want to really race on the track. For me, I’m not racing the subway right now. I think it’s a very fun thing to do and I definitely enjoy doing it, but I’ll wait until I’ve done more competitive racing to race more trains. It’s a blast, and very, very fun.

A: Obviously you’ve got that line on the West Side from 110-116, but what are some other lines you race around New York City, and what is this trolley race in California you recently did?

L: Pat did it. He did race the trolley in San Francisco, which he said was awesome. That’s what’s fun about it, you can essentially do it anywhere. I went to DC, going to Georgetown for grad school, and it was pretty fun. I used to race buses in Georgetown and it would be pretty fun because they actually would get going pretty fast. That’s one of the coolest things about it: you can do it in a lot of different cities, and it’s almost a more fun way to run around a city.

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A: Was there a specific line, besides the 1 line between 110-116 on the West side, which you run in New York?

L: Yeah, Pat has been doing the 7 train, the above ground train in Queens, but he hasn’t beaten it yet. That’s one I’m going to try when I return, when I return to Mass Transit Racing. I’m going to get that one. He’s raced the 7 train and hasn’t beaten it, so I’m going to do that one. We’ve done the 1 train still, but it was from 207 to 215 because the train’s above ground. So you can see the racers when you’re on the train. So a bunch of high schoolers got all excited and there were a bunch of people who got off and started cheering people on as they were finishing. That was a more fun one.

A: Can you explain the rules? Do you need to actually get on the train to win, like catch it when it stops, or just get to the station before the train?

L: We do it when you come into the station. It’s already dangerous and you have to be careful when you’re participating in it anyway. We make it easier so you’re not rushing back to get on the train. We make sure everyone’s safe. It’s really not worth getting hurt or hurting someone else. We always say, “if you see a red light, you can possibly run across it, but you need to make sure there’s no car coming or anything like that because that’s just not worth it.”

A: When do you finish up training and get back to the mass transit racing?

L: That sort of depends. For right now I’m doing a race in Des Moines at the end of June. Then, there’s a possibility that I could go over to Europe and race this summer and other things. Most likely, however, sometime in July, August or September, where I’ll definitely be doing train racing again. The fall is the down time for running. In the fall, I’ll be in the city quite a bit doing it.

A: What events do you run, professionally?

L: Half-Miler or Miler, so the 800m and 1500m during the outdoor season. Those are my two events, and I’ll most likely run the 1500m at the USA’s.

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A: What are your personal bests in the mile?

L: I’ve run 3:58 for the mile and then 3:337 for the 1500m, which is more like a 3:54, but I have to officially say it’s a 3:58 mile.

A: How old were you when you first broke the 4-minute mile?

L: I was a grad student at Georgetown when I did it, so I was 22, or 23 years old at that point.

A: When you were younger, obviously you enjoyed running and you ran in college, but did you ever think you’d run at this level and run a sub-4-minute mile? Under 1000 people IN THE WORLD, have ever run a sub-4-minute mile.

L: It definitely becomes the goal once you start to get pretty good. In high school, my brother was good, so I was a 7th grader when I started to get into running. And it’s always in the back your mind. I was the 315th American to do it. Just over 400 Americans have done it, so it’s a pretty cool accomplishment. It’s definitely something that I’m still very proud of, even though I’ve done it a few times now.

A: Is there any ultimate goal for you professionally?

L: In my mind this is kind of the last little hurrah. I’m living out in New Jersey and I’m actually living as a professional athlete. Hopefully I do make a jump where I make a team for the U.S. Finals, but I’d need to make a big jump. I’m hoping that happens this year.

A: Where do you go from here? What’s the goal moving forward for Mass Transit Racers?

L: The hope is just to make it bigger. I don’t think there will necessarily be prizes, but more like a club and new way to run. In a lot of running clubs, everybody just goes for a run. Everybody just jogs and has a beer afterwards. With us, you go and you run hard. It’s more fun to run fast. That’s one of our big mottos: more fun to run fast, so why not try and beat something while you’re at it.

It’s fun because you’re racing with other people, so you may beat them, but the main competitor is the train, or bus, or cab, or whatever it may be. If you beat the train, that’s great, or if you get close to beating the train, that’s great too because it’s hard. A lot of people aren’t going to beat the train.

Hopefully one day, people will say, ‘Yeah, I’m part of Mass Transit Racers,” and other people will go, “what’s that?” That’s what we love about it: it’s weird, fun and fast.

All Photo Credit Courtesy of Zach Hetrick and Mass Transit Racers.

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