“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Laozi, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 64
Captain Robert Allardyce Barclay (1779 – 1854) of Ury, Scotland was a well-known “walker” during the nineteenth century. He was considered the father of pedestrianism, which is the progenitor of racewalking. He’s most famously known for his feat of walking 1000 miles in 1000 hours.
When Barclay boasted that he could walk 1000 miles in 1000 hours, some Englishmen were skeptical of him and offered an odd of 100 to 1. Confident that he will succeed, Barclay himself made a wager of 1000 guineas (equivalent to 1 pound sterling or 21 shillings during that time).
The terms of the wager include:
- He should cover 1 mile within each of the next consecutive 1000 hours. This means that he can’t walk, say, four miles in an hour and have a three-hour break.
- Regardless of the weather, the mile should be covered.
- The hours would be counted continuously and uninterruptedly.
- He would walk half a mile from his home in Newmarket to an agreed upon point and then walk the same half-mile path back to his home.
Barclay didn’t like the conditions very much. Though who can blame him? Imagine yourself walking for almost six weeks without much sleep. However, in the end, he decided to accept the challenge anyway. On 1 June 1809, the event commenced and Barclay began to take the first step.
Now you may think that he would be unable to have that much time for rest, but that’s actually not the case. He was able to come up with a system for prolonging his resting time. It took 15 minutes for Barclay to walk for a mile. So, he would cover the first mile around 15 minutes before the end of the hour then he would immediately cover the second mile at the start of the following hour. This system gave him approximately 90 minutes of rest for every two miles.
Nonetheless, walking for several weeks without any decent sleep took a toll on Barclay. Over the weeks, his average time per mile increased from 15 minutes to 21 minutes. His weight has decreased from 84.5 kg to 70 kg. In addition, he began to suffer from blisters and muscle pains. As weeks gone by, it became more and more apparent that he would likely not finish his walk. Hence, the odds against him continued to grow. But despite his difficulties, Barclay soldiered on.
During the midst of summer, the hot weather became almost unbearable and the road became hot and dusty. To combat the situation, Barclay had a water cart sprinkle the path in front of him. However, the heat continued to ravage him and it greatly contributed to his declining strength.
Curiously, as he approached the end of his walk, he somehow gained new strength. During the last few days of the event, a large influx of people have gone to see it and it was recommended that the path of Barclay’s walk should be roped in.
Finally, on 12 July 1809, Barclay finished his walk and the final mile only took him 15 minutes. So, he finished 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
Barclay’s wager of a thousand guineas made him a hundred thousand guineas, which made him a rich man. In modern terms, this is equivalent to £5 million.