It was 11:00 AM on Friday, July 25th in Boston, Massachusetts. Rush hour traffic had subsided, especially for those folks who had already escaped to the beaches of Cape Cod or the mountains of New Hampshire for the weekend. There was no public school, no college classes, and no Red Sox game. It was about as peaceful as Boston ever gets.
At this tranquil moment, however, an epic battle of man versus machine was about to be waged. Steel-hearted contenders from Runkeeper and The Boston Calendar would race a train from the B-Line branch of the MBTA Green Line—Boston’s original “Green Monster”—to prove once and for all if the T is really as slow as we Bostonians all complain that it is. It was a bunch of plucky start-up folks going head-to-head in a 4.1-mile race against the most heavily-used light rail line in the country. Who would win?
In the end, three of the Runkeeper contenders emerged victorious: Michael Ravert (24:08), Phil Connaughton (24:10), and Matt Wilson (24:15) all beat the B-Line’s finishing time of 24:49. However, given that all three runners had to keep a sub-6:00 mile pace for 4.1 miles, many onlookers wondered, “Wow… maybe the Green Line isn’t so slow after all?”
Although detailed statistics on the speed of the B-Line are unavailable, the 24:49 time seems uncharacteristically fast. Google Maps estimates the train should take about 26 minutes, but depending on the number of passengers the train picks up and the number of traffic signals it hits, this optimistic estimate can grow rather quickly. For example, by the finish line our 25-minute train had actually caught up to the one that had left 7 minutes earlier. In other words, had we attempted to race that train instead, it would have come in at a sluggish 33 minutes (8:03 pace), and half the field would have beaten it.
Curious whether you could have bested the train yourself? The chart below summarizes the best paces for all Runkeeper users that have run a 4-mile run or longer. Only about 11% of users could have beaten the train on race day, and about 30% could have beaten the 33-minute time of its slower colleague. For a Runkeeper user to have a 50/50 shot at beating the train, it would have to come in at about 37:30 (9:08 pace)—a pretty typical time for a Green Line train at rush hour.
Perhaps the most important thing was that on race day, both the runners and the train gave it their best and left everything out on the field. Though the humans came out on top, I have to admit that the Green Line was very gracious in defeat. In fact, it even gave us all a ride downtown for our post-race party.