Leg 2, Day 17 – Human Guinea Pigs

Laura Penhaul By

Day 17 – Human guinea pigs

As some of you may recall, the day before we left the UK we had a day of testing at the GSK Human Performance Lab. The point of this, was to collect pre- row body composition data such as our skin folds, weight, girths, bone dexa scans. We also did a VO2max test with lactate levels, to again give us a baseline of what pre-row metabolic systems our bodies are normally used to. Post row on completion of either a single leg for Izz, Lizanne and Meg, or the full journey for Em, Nat and I, we plan to return to the lab to have the tests repeated.

The reason for all this, is because I have been interested in maximising what we can gain from this row and from a science perspective, there’s so much information we can collect. Fundamentally we are a team of women who will be sustaining endurance exercise over a 6 month period, involving sleep deprivation, non-impact exercise, sun and heat exposure, possible cognitive impairment and hormone control, just to name a few variables. A hypothesis of what the results may show as an example, is that 6months of non-Impact activity (i.e. Not walking on solid ground for 6months) has led to reduced bone density in a female cohort in their 30’s. Therefore the application of these findings could go on to reinforce the importance of impact exercise to minimise osteoporosis/ bone density loss (this is just a suggested example and not a statement).

What’s been amazing working with the GSK HPL team, is that they have so many awesome facilities and a wealth of knowledge between them all, that it has allowed us to collect a widespread range of data, so that on return we can see what areas show the most significance.

An area that particularly interests me, is how our Cortisol levels fluctuate when we’re sleep deprived and facing stressful situations and how this links to our cognitive function and psychological baseline. Cortisol is a hormone that can be collected via saliva samples, however previously you used to have to refrigerate or freeze the samples immediately to allow for testing. GSK HPL however, have found a genius who has developed a medium that the salivary samples can be kept in at any heat for up to 6 months without deformation of the results. Very kindly, Joe Dunbar of IPro (real time salivary diagnostics) has sponsored us with these sample kits. So twice a week, 15mins after waking from the sunrise shift and before eating, we each pop a small Popsicle stick with an absorber on the end, under our tongue and leave it for 15mins to collect some saliva before putting it in the small pot of solution with our name and date on. The collection of samples is then sent back to GSK after each leg with the team member who is being tested for their follow up post a single leg row.
Alongside this, we fill out a questionnaire which gives a brief description of our:
Readiness to row
Physical muscle or joint aches and pains
Perceived sleep quality and duration in 24hrs
General mood etc.
Finally, we also complete a quick 3min cognitive test. This is an app based programme on the iPad and measures our reactivity and response times. It’s a bit like the game Batak where you have to hit the light as soon as it flashes up. Collecting this real time data in situ on the boat, will be really useful data to see the developments over the duration of the row. Combine this with our logbook information and blogs to give an understanding of what was happening on that day of testing and hopefully it will confirm how Cortisol is a good predictor of stress response and its impact on cognitive function. So watch this space and hopefully post row I should be able to have some write ups to share with you courtesy of GSK HPL team.

Update on Doris: As you’ve most probably picked up, it’s a tad toasty out here on the Pacific at the mo and typical British, we’re never happy with the weather (it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too wet, it’s so exposed etc.). Just a month ago we would have been rowing away from rain clouds, yesterday we were chasing one down just to get under the cool shade and fresh water of a shower. Today we’re taking an hour to grab some social time together as a team whilst we have a quick dip and eat our lunch together on deck. Freeze dried Chicken tikka, chicken korma, oriental chicken and an all day breakfast, is on the menu for today, so I hope you all savour the flavour of that fresh food you’re eating!

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  1. Ray Penhaul says:

    Just to let you girls know we are out to dinner tonight, nice meal, drop of wine and best of all dry land, it’s a hard life!!
    Probably fail the cognative and reaction tests later!!

  2. Jim Andrews says:

    Just love the previous post from Ray Penhaul. The science you are gathering will be probably as important as the achievement but I will restrict my interest to the simple facts. You are doing something that the average mortal cannot begin to comprehend. Endurance, stamina the mental strength needed to control the highs and lows. I hold you all in the highest esteem, keep rowing, smiling and gathering science but above all, stay safe. XX

  3. I’m sure Ray will fail the tests! Excellent science stuff that you are doing, but that saliva test is tedious. Love the social time photo but puzzled how you took it- do you have your own drone or an extra long invisible selfie stick? Keep strong and safe x

  4. Barney says:

    You are posting superb blogs these days and instead of getting less interesting due to fatigue they are getting more interesting. Must be due to loss of bone density! Now there’s a scientific link you may not have thought of!

  5. kim says:

    hey laura

    had a roast tonight and did think of you šŸ™‚ and thought i;d log on for an udpate. was blown away by the prgress you’ve made. my eyes on the map look like you are nearly half way!!!!! while it feels like you are trudging through waves and rain you will be in cairns in no time so i hope you can savour every moment. i can’t remember if you were travelling in oz before heading back or had any down time (i suspect i know the answer :)) but if you are anywhere near melbourne i am sure my sister would be more than willing to have you stay on her couch. keep up the good work. kim

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