Physicists have finally fact-checked the ludicrous lyrics in The Proclaimer’s 500 Miles song

In 1988, Craig and Charlie Reid (referred to hence as “The Proclaimers”) made a big proclamation of their own in a three-minute pop song. “I would walk 500 miles,” they sang before recklessly doubling down with a cheery “and I would walk 500 more.” Why? “Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles to fall down at your door,” of course.

Assuming that a sweaty, passed out man is the kind of romantic gesture the unnamed object of affections is seeking, would the Proclaimer in question actually make the journey? If that brainteaser has been troubling you for the last 29 years, then I have good news: fourth-year students from the University of Leicester have fact-checked the claim across two papers, and from a Physics perspective, it checks out.

Before we get to that point though, it’s worth revisiting the groundwork of the giants whose shoulders the students’ work stands on. From the band’s hometown of Leith, it’s only possible to walk 500 miles (let alone 500 more) by walking in circles or strolling through the Channel Tunnel, which would surely be frowned upon by security officials at Dover.

But back to the physics of the matter. Could a given Proclaimer walk 500 miles, and then 500 more just to be the man who walks a thousand miles to fall down at your door? Yes. The paper, titled I Would Walk 500 Miles reveals that with the average Scottish male body, and not allowing the Proclaimer any rest stops, they would lose 1.3% of body mass after the first 500 miles, and 2.8% by the 1,000th mile.

I know what you’re thinking: no Proclaimer worth their salt would set off on a 1,000-mile journey without food for the trip. That’s where the second paper, brilliantly titled I Would Walk 500 More comes into play. What happens if a Proclaimer carries food for the journey in his backpack? It can’t happen: “the initial carried mass increases exponentially over journey length,” the paper reads. “It is therefore not feasible for the Proclaimer to carry its own food over the full 1000 miles.”

Is food admissible? We don’t know. The source material is remarkably vague about the specifics of The Proclaimers’ offer, wasting valuable chorus space on “da da das”, rather than clear terms of the pledge. It doesn’t mention whether there will be breaks for sleep, whether a crew will be on hand to assist, or even over what period the challenge will be completed. Always check the smallprint when accepting a romantic gesture in the form of a 1980s pop song.

These two additions to the canon of Proclaimers studies are both published in the University of Leicester’s own Journal of Physics Topics, which exists to publish work from fourth year students. Although the subject matter may be flippant, the journal gives students the chance to experience the wonders of academic publishing in a less dog-eat-dog environment.

Of course, while it’s possible in a physics sense, it’s hugely inadvisable in a medical capacity. Assuming a speed of four miles per hour, a person (Proclaimer or otherwise) would cover 96 miles in a 24-hour period, meaning you’d need over five days of solid walking for the first leg to be completed. It’s been suggested that humans can go for over ten days without sleep, but probably not while walking 500 miles (and then 500 more) without food. More work is required in this burgeoning field of research.

Image: Thomas Quine used under Creative Commons

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