Craig and Charlie Reid, collectively known as Scottish band The Proclaimers, informed the world on high rotation they would “Walk 500 Miles”, followed by walking 500 more, in order to collapse at their loved one's door. It's only taken 29 years, but science has now investigated the biophysical consequences of this boast.
As diligent observers have informed us, it is impossible to walk 500 miles in a straight line from the brothers' Leith home without hitting water. Without special dispensation to travel through the Channel Tunnel on foot, their epic journey either needs to go around in circles, or involve an unmentioned ferry.
In the Journal of Physics Special Topics, four University of Leicester students have investigated the possibility of the average Scotsman trying to walk such a distance without diverting to get food on the way.
Based on existing formulas establishing the energy required for a human of specified mass to travel at 4 kilometers per hour (2.5 miles per hour), the paper estimates the loss of 1.3 percent of body mass for a typical 26-year old Scottish male to walk 500 miles, which becomes 2.8 percent if they keep their promise to complete a second 500 miles.
The figures unrealistically assume no time taken for rest-stops. Nevertheless, the authors argue the singers would not have come close to exhausting their fat reserves, even if they were themselves exhausted by their epic journey.
Apparently considering their work inadequate, the four authors contemplated the possibility the "Proclaimer" intended to carry food in a backpack. In a second paper in the same journal, the authors found the food required would increase exponentially with distance, and conclude: “It is therefore not feasible for the Proclaimer to carry its own food over the full 1,000 miles.”
Like all scientific modeling, the research relies on many assumptions, such as there not being any conveniently placed food stops en route, and the absence of any support crew. Similarly, the authors appear to have ruled out the possibility the reason the journey would not leave the British Isles would be multiple diversions in the quest for food extended the route. Scientific modeling always has to rely on assumptions, but when your source material is a 3-minute pop song there can be an uncomfortably large number of gaps to fill in with guesswork.
The Journal of Physics Topics is not, as might be suspected, a predatory journal. Rather it has been created to carry work from fourth-year students in Leicester's Department of Physic and Astronomy. Peer reviewed in the true sense of the word, the papers are referred by other students, creating an opportunity to experience an important part of the scientific process from both sides at an unusually early point in one's career.