Can a group of runners really outpace the T?
Last Sunday, members of the Michael Scott Road Runners did what they typically do the second or third weekend of every month: They gathered at a local T station, did their best to shake off any lingering hangovers, and set out to race an MBTA Green Line train on foot.
The idea first came about a few months back. Sam Singer, who was training for a marathon and occasionally keeping pace with the city’s above-ground trains, got to wondering whether he could beat the train in a footrace. This prompted the 25-year-old Brookline resident to recruit a small band of friends to join him, which led to the formation of what one member calls the Michael Scott Road Runners, a name inspired by the clueless boss on “The Office.’’
Which brought them here, on this overcast morning, ready to take on the notoriously pokey B line.
“We’re not crazy intense runners,” said Will Gibbons, one of the group’s first members. “We’re just guys who like to pull shenanigans and talk with friendly strangers . . . and run moderately fast once a month.”
The rules are simple: Starting at Boston College Station, the outermost stop on the Green Line’s B branch, the group picks a train, chats briefly with the driver, and then proceeds to race it (from the safety of a nearby sidewalk) as it makes the 4-mile journey down Commonwealth Avenue to Blandford Street. If all the runners reach Blandford — the final stop before the train slips underground into Kenmore Station — ahead of the train, the Road Runners consider themselves victorious.
The problem, of course, is that this is much easier in theory. Joke if you want about the T’s shortcomings; when it comes to racing, the train is a formidable foe. In an earlier race, one runner pushed himself so hard he threw up.
Despite the train’s 25-mile-per-hour speed limit, meanwhile, some runners are convinced that competing conductors employ tricks to hurry the pace.
When the half-dozen or so 20- and 30-something men assembled on Sunday, this challenge also remained: The entire team had never beaten the T to the finish.
“I think Vegas has us favored by a little bit,” Gibbons quipped. “But not overwhelming favorites.”
From the start, though, their optimism was put to the test.
Within seconds of leaving Boston College Station, at 10:14 a.m., the train had shot to a considerable lead, and by the time it reached its first stop, South Street Station, a minute or two later, the runners had fallen far behind.
By 10:17, when the train arrived at Chestnut Hill Avenue Station, not much had changed.
And at 10:19, as it breezed toward Chiswick Road to pick up another few passengers, the runners were still nowhere to be found.
They weren’t panicking, though. They’d done their homework. They knew that in the race’s early stages, where stops are more widely spaced, the terrain greatly favors the train. Around the halfway point was where they hoped the race would turn. If they could catch up to the train there, if they could take advantage of the long downhill that leads toward Boston University, they’d have a shot.
And indeed, around Washington Street Station, the Road Runners made their move.
As the train stopped to pick up a cluster of passengers, Steve Muchiri, a 30-year-old Somerville resident competing in his first train race, appeared atop a hill behind the train, followed closely by the others.
And although the train quickly reclaimed a narrow lead, the race, as they say, was on.
Back and forth it went over the course of the next few stops, neither side bowing, a couple of heavyweights trading blows.
And this is how it continued, until the train reached Harvard Avenue and everything unraveled. There, a throng stood waiting, and when the doors opened, they took their time boarding. One rider wanted to pay with cash. Another tried to chat up the driver. Seconds ticked away.
Outside, the last of the runners breezed past, speeding down the Comm. Ave. homestretch — past Firestone and Sullivan Tire and Auto, past Raising Cane’s chicken and BU’s Fitness and Recreation Center — and, eventually, across the finish line.
All except one.
Muchiri, who, in classic Michael Scott Road Runners fashion, had mistakenly believed the race to be just one mile long, had shot out at a blistering pace and was now struggling to finish.
Just a few blocks short of Blandford Street Station, he slowed to a walk, and the train quickly closed in.
Then, at the last second, Muchiri, digging deep, propelled himself forward, kicking through the finish just seconds before the train and giving the group the first victory in its brief history.
At the finish line, the runners celebrated, cheering boisterously and playfully mocking the conductor of the losing train as he passed by.
But true competitors never rest on their laurels. And so, even in those glorious minutes following their victory, they began considering the next challenge. “Will and I have been talking,” Singer said, “and we want to start experimenting against buses.”
Reached for comment following the race, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo vowed that the Green Line would come back strong, outlining various steps the organization is taking to improve its efficiency.
As for the performance of the Michael Scott Road Runners?
“I challenge the runners to take on the Green Line D train from Riverside,” he said in an e-mail. “My money is on the T.”