Team QinetiQ will be put through their paces to determine how fit they are and more importantly how they compare with each other. To do this they will have a number of physiological and psychological measurements taken that will be analysed by the Human Performance Team. After analysis, training and nutritional programmes will be drawn up to help Team QinetiQ prepare themselves for the challenges ahead.

The Team QinetiQ Human Performance Team have constructed a unique regime to test and advise Ben and James in advance of the South Pole Race. The regime is designed around maximal exertion both physically and mentally to understand their own strengths and weaknesses as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the rest of the team. By doing so, this scientific approach will be used to better prepare them for the race.

Optimising nutritional and calorific intake

Team QinetiQ will undertake a series of tests to gauge their physical fitness and fitness capability. This will begin with measurement of their Resting Metabolic Rate. This is the amount of energy expended while at rest in a neutrally temperate environment. To make these measurements, they must be at complete rest, and gas analysis of their expired air will be made. The measurement of Resting Metabolic Rate will give an understanding of the energy requirements for Ben and James and the difference between them.

Team QinetiQ will complete dietary diaries which will document all of their food intake over a series of days, taking into account every gram of food they eat. This will enable the Human Performance Team to plan the type of food they will take with them during the race. This is an important balancing act as Team QinetiQ must carry enough food and in the correct forms to sustain their race effort, but also to try and minimise the weight of the food to give them a competitive advantage.

QinetiQ Centre for Defence Nutrition

Understanding the limitations of their bodies
Ben and James will be put through their physical paces using several fitness tests to measure cardiovascular fitness and strength. The Human Performance Team will measure cardiovascular fitness using a combination of maximal and sub-maximal VO2 tests. For these tests, Ben and James will be required to run to exhaustion on a treadmill whilst expired air is collected and analysed. This will enable their maximal oxygen consumption or aerobic capacity to be calculated. In addition, they will undertake a series of sub-maximal tests of increasing difficulty with blood tests being taken at the same time. Analysis of the blood at the different intensities will allow the calculation of their lactate threshold, which is the point at which lactic acid starts to accumulate in the blood stream. The lactate threshold is a useful measure for deciding exercise intensity for training and racing in endurance sports. In terms of the South Pole race, it will provide an indication of the intensity of exercise that Team QinetiQ should be able to sustain during the course of the race.

Exercise Laboratory

Simulated Pulk Pulling
The optimised technique during the race for pulling a pulk is to ensure a steady rhythm at a pace that minimise sweating, which can prove a significant disadvantage in the Antarctic environment. The Team will need to move together through the race and therefore understanding their differing fitness levels and how this relates to their daily distance coverage is very important as it is vital to ensure that Ben and James complete the same distance at the same speed each day, but also that they are in a comparable state of disrepair!

With the different levels of physical fitness in mind, Team QinetiQ will undertake a simulated pulk pull. This will enable an optimised weight distribution plan to be calculated such that the overall weight of kit carried is distributed in an efficient manner across the Team, maximising their speed over ground.

Metabolic Laboratory

The power of the mind!
Team QinetiQ will spend up to 6 weeks unsupported in their own company and therefore the ability to motivate themselves and to get on with one another is vital. Ben and James have spent considerable time in each other’s company in challenging environment, but the dynamics of being isolated on boat and walking across Antarctica are very different.

The Team will be psychologically profiled by our team of experts to understand their motivations, weaknesses, strengths and how interactions with others affect their own abilities. They will have in-depth assessments of their team dynamics to analyse how effective they work together and which aspects of individual’s attitude and personality can have beneficial or detrimental effects on team performance. They will also be coached on effective management techniques to overcome potential hostilities during the race that arise from such a physically and mentally stress environment.

Finally, they will be trained in planning strategies so that effective decision-making can be made by the Team, despite the physical and environmental stressors placed upon them.

Fatigue and Rostering

Sleep and spotting fatigue
The Antarctic is a physically-challenging environment, and at the time of the race will be coupled with 24 hours of sunlight every day. This environment takes away the natural cues that enable humans to regulate their sleep patterns. The combination of extreme endurance exercise and limited environmental cues can have a profound effect on the ability to sleep, particularly as rest times will be dictated by the team and/or environment rather than an individual.

The Human Performance Team will be analysing sleep diaries from each Team member to determine differences in the natural sleep cycles. This information, coupled with knowledge of sleeping without environmental cues will be used to advise Team QinetiQ on coping strategies during the race to maximise their rest periods.

Sleep, Cognitive Performance and Pharmaco-EEG

Understanding and surviving the environment
Antarctica is the coldest place on Earth and the likely temperature during the race will be as low as -50°C! So the team and their kit can be pre-exposed to temperatures similar to Antarctica, ensuring the correct operation of equipment and familiarising themselves with the activities of daily living.

The final part of their preparation will be to expose the Team to simulated race conditions, drawing on all the previous testing and advice that has taken place. Using QinetiQ’s thermal chambers, the Team will be immersed in an Antarctic environment for 48 hours. During this period, they will be put through various stresses and strains to simulate physical and mental exertion, relevant tasks during the race and the constant daylight that they will endure. It will provide the opportunity for the Team to endure the typical environment they will face, but also to thoroughly test the clothing and equipment that they will use during the race.

The Team will undertake prolonged simulated pulk pulls, which will draw upon the information gained from the laboratory tests to determine the speed and load of the pulk of the team members to equilibrate the relative exertion of each team member. They will be mentally stressed, through completion of complex mental and planning tasks, to show how they react individually and as a group to the stressful demands of the environment. Finally, they will learn how to complete those tasks that are vital to their survival during the race: cooking, sleeping, and pitching are tent.

The Human Performance Team aims to prepare Team QinetiQ in the best way possible for the challenging and dangerous environment they will face during the South Pole Race.