CurraNZ ambassador and emergency doctor David Haunschmidt has just returned from a successful European campaign of trail and ultra races where he overcame a disastrous hamstring injury at beginning of his campaign. Here, he recounts his time in mixing with the best in the Northern Hemisphere - and overcoming injury to seal two remarkable wins.
When I decided to do some races in Europe I picked some of the hardest events in the distance, from a competitive and course standpoint.
Having started trail-running in New Zealand, I wanted to see how I stacked up internationally in events like Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc OCC, the XTerra European Trail Championships and Skyline Ben Nevis Ultra. They don't come much more searching than this, with little time for recovery. Three weeks annual leave: Three races.
Training had been going well in the lead-up, but disaster struck two weeks out from leaving. Never one to pass up a chance to hit the slopes, I took the opportunity to enjoy three half-days snowboarding whilst attending a conference in Queenstown. On the second-last run, I took a heavy tumble and felt a rip in the back of my thigh. The next morning, my left leg had doubled in size and I was unable to walk without a limp.
An ultrasound confirmed an horrendous muscle tear, with the sonographer telling me I would be unlikely to run at all for at least six weeks.
I was supposed to be competing in two weeks, with flights, accommodation, race-entries organised and paid for!
Life is not what happens, it is how you react to it. Always one to remain positive, although disappointed, I needed a shift in mindset: I decided I was still going to have a great holiday in Europe and do everything I could to heal and get myself running again.
Jump forward to OCC race day, the 50km event at the UTMB World Series Final. By then, I had surpassed expectations and progressed from walking to gentle running. Running on the flat was fine, but the steep up and down gradients of the French Alps were excruciating for my hamstring.
Completing the 53km and 3,200m elevation was a huge challenge mentally and physically. I was proud to have finished, and it was a great 'recce' if I ever decide to race UTMB again. A really spectacular race with phenomenal support. I had a good time plodding along, walking several sections and getting it done.
'Should you even be on this start line?'
The next eight days of playing in the Alps, stretching, massage, swimming in hot-pools, mountain walks and rest had me feeling ready to run normally again. The bruising was still there and I could still feel a big ball of scar tissue, but I was moving well.
Standing on the start line of the Xterra European Trail Championships in Italy, my only thought was “I really hope this leg holds out!”.
Three minutes before the start, another competitor noticed the bruising all over my leg and asked me whether I should be doing this!? My thoughts exactly.
I needn’t have been worried though as I led that race from start to finish, and absolutely loved it. I was able to tackle the mountains as normal and felt strong, with having really impressive athletes chasing in hot pursuit got the most out of me.
The stunning course and atmosphere is one I will never forget. Climbing up Bocca di Brenta pass, 30km into the race, with spectacular views of snow capped peaks, cresting the top surrounded by a crowd with deafening shouts, bells, horns, cameras and encouragement. It's hard to forget moments like that in this sport!
From honours in Italy to Scotland for the 'Ben Nevis'
With that win in the bag, it was onwards to Scotland to visit family and friends and race in the Ben Nevis Ultra.
The Skyrunning event traverses wild Scottish Highlands, through bogs and heather, skirting steep Munros and requiring scrambling, rock climbing, leaping boulders across high ridges and negotiating massive ascents/descents across technical and challenging terrain.
Being Scotland, the weather played its part with visibility ~20m & 0C temperatures when reaching the high ridges and summit.
Some super strong competition made me really work to take the lead 15km in and push hard for the remainder to take first place. Another event I felt privileged to be a part of and experience, sharing this success with family made it really special.
I have many learnings from my time racing in Europe. One of the big takeaways is to always remain positive, make the most out of every situation and have fun regardless of what happens.
My thanks to CurraNZ for supporting me. I’ve found taking the supplement to be a great benefit whilst travelling and racing. Not only for the endurance and fat-adaption effects in those long races, but also for their health benefits whilst travelling, when sometimes it's not possible to eat or sleep as well as when you're at home. It's awesome to have these in your corner to improve on all these aspects.
Dr David Haunschmidt
FACEM, MBChB, DCH, PGcertCPU.
Coach at TrailAthlete