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Zoe's 2012 Canadian Ski Marathon Report
By:  Zoe Panchen   (2012/02/15)


The Saturday of this year’s Canadian Ski Marathon (CSM) was a perfect day, cold but sunny. The CSM team had promised good snow conditions and they did not disappoint, probably the best conditions I have participated in.

This was to be my 8th CSM having done the bronze, silver and five golds. I had been out of town the weekend of the CSM for the past few years and so this year I would finely have the opportunity to wear my golden permanent bib number I had earned 4 years ago. I had never not finished the CSM, but this year was to be different.

There is a great sense of camaraderie at the CSM and it was fun to catch up with all the people I have got to know over the years, many of whom I only see this one weekend of the year. So as we headed out from the start in the dark, head torches bobbing, it was cool to hear little phrases like “hey Zoe, how you doin’, good to see you at the CSM”, “hey Greg, nice to see you!”.

Section after section, I admired and marvelled at the beautiful winter wonderland, enjoying skiing across fields, woods, valleys and hills. Much of the route was familiar but there were some new stretches I had not skied before. The grooming was superb, considering how little snow we have had, the trails were well covered with snow, no skied out patches on the down hills and no skittering across icy farm yards. The CSM team had done an excellent job preparing the trail.

My training had gone well, I had 400km of skiing under my belt, was skiing at a pace that would get me comfortably to the check point cut offs on time, felt comfortable and in balance carrying a pack and I had no wheezing at the end of long cold skies (the only symptom I ever have of cold induced asthma).

One of my biggest challenges on the CSM is skiing with a pack. I am on rather the small side - just over 5ft tall. The requirement for CSM gold is to carry a pack of at least 5kg containing everything you need to sleep outside. Most golds I would recon have a pack weighing around 20lbs which is about a fifth of my weight. This year I had whittled my pack down to somewhere around 7 or 8kg but balancing on skinny skis on a twisty downhill with a big lump on my back still proves difficult. On more difficult downhills I usually resort to the tried and tested snow plough or swallowing the pride and taking the skis off and walking down. I have become more proficient over the years and this year I was proud to have skied the 1st section in the dark with no falls. Alas falless streak did not last and I fell on a silly little hill just out of the 1st check point. Someone then skied into me, I twisted my knee, he broke his pole. We both checked each other were OK and off we skied with no bad feelings, such is the spirit between CSM skiers.

Every year I make up a little card with the times I need to reach a check point in order to meet the cut off times. I have a 7km/hr column which is the bare minimum to make the cut offs and an 8km/hr column which is a comfortable speed for me. This year I was way ahead of my 8km column, cruising along comfortably. Things were looking good. However on the last section of the first day when I’d already been skiing for 9hrs and 75km, I started wheezing, my breathing was a bit laboured and the pace slowed. This is not unusual for me, it happens every year at the CSM and I’m usually fine the next day. For the first few years I had no idea that there was even a problem, cold induced asthma was something most had never heard of at that time. Finely someone in the know heard me wheezing and encouraged me to go to the doctors and I was told I had cold/exercise induced asthma. Half of me did not really believe it as I only got a wheeze & a cough and no hint of an asthma attack and I noticed no difference with the various inhalers I tried.

I arrived at gold camp at 5pm, happy to be finished for the day. I quickly changed my inner clothing layer to prevent getting chilled and refuelled for the next day. New friends were made around the camp fire and epic stories of the day and past years told. Everyone retires early at camp when it is close to -20C and there is a long day ahead.

I had barely got settled in my sleeping bag when I had my first ever asthma attack. It was scary and I really wasn’t sure what to do. The noise of the wheezing was alarming. I felt trapped in my bivy bag, every slight movement exacerbated the gasping breathing. I worked hard to relax and take deep breaths. In panic I sat up and that seemed to help. I somehow got my breathing under control. I found lying with my head propped up (on my ski boot of all things!) seemed to help. I went on to have one of my warmest and most comfortable sleeps at camp.

By the next morning I felt fine and off I set but it wasn’t long before the wheezing returned and my pace slowed. Mr. Sandbag Mike Giles skied by looking strong and fast for someone who said he was injured and not well trained with encouraging words but I was drifting towards the tail end of the skiers. I was 1/2hr behind schedule at the 1st check point. I resolved to keep going until I was stopped at a check point because of missing the cut off. I arrived at the 2nd check point an hour behind schedule. I could have kept going but the next section was the infamous Rouge River section with huge up and down hills. I was concerned I didn’t have the mental fortitude to negotiate this section and that I might have another asthma attack so I reluctantly and sadly decided to call it quits.

I was disappointed, this was the 1st time I had not finished the CSM or any event for that matter. I was disappointed not to ski the rest of the tougher sections on a year with such good snow conditions that would have made it easier to negotiate.

It is three days on now, I am still wheezing and breathless but already I have resolved to return and redeem myself. I am scheming of ways to make my pack even lighter and to take this asthma thing more seriously and figure out how to better control it. I want to ski the whole CSM with that golden number! Look out for #227 and say hi!

I hope that this report will be of interest to those that have or might think they have cold/exercise induced asthma. If anyone has suggestions let me know & I will maybe compile and post on TriRudy.

Interesting Reading. . .
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