When it came to the race itself, Coats and his team faced tough competition – particularly from two Ex-special forces veterans from Norway. “I imagine they were conceived on skis,” Coats joked as he described their capabilities in navigating across the ice. The British team, on the other hand, had only learnt to ski one year prior to the expedition.
“Ben is a Broadcaster and adventurer, James is a former double Olympic champion, and I’m an obstetrician. However you look at it, that’s not your dream team for a South Pole race that requires performance,” said Coats. “We were three people who had come from all different backgrounds, were under-qualified, but had an enormous amount of grit, energy, and a shared British determination to succeed.”
In laying out their strategy, the key issue to address was how to win when up against two better skilled and better equipped athletes. The night before the race, Coats and his team agreed they would ski for 16 hours each day with breaks every two hours, before pitching up the tent to have four hours of sleep each night.
“This seemed like a genius plan, and that was the strategy taken care of – the next thing was direction,” Coats explained. “The conventional compass doesn’t work at the South Pole, and in minus 40 degrees GPS lasts about seven minutes. So, we could either use our shadows, or we could rely on the wind… so we followed the Norwegians,” he added humorously. “When you look at the competition, and you’re not as good as them, just copy them!”
Joking aside, this is exactly what they did, until the Norwegians decided to take a break. The British trio decided to plough on, leading the race for five days with the competition just on the horizon. On day five however, the Norwegians caught up and suggested that they ski together. “We were a bit too trusting of these Norwegians,” said Coats. “They weren’t just following us, they were tracking us – charting our day-by-day distances and looking at the colour of our urine in the snow to see how dehydrated we were. They had skied for 16 hours to catch us up, then skied with us all day to extract the information they required, then left us and skid for another 16 hours during the night. So, while we kept looking over our shoulders thinking they were behind, they were about eight hours in front of us.”