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Published Wednesday 1 Mar 2023

David runs, wins, and regularly takes out course records in ultramarathons. Find out how this ED doc fits this in around caring for patients and busy shift work

David Haunschmidt is an Emergency Medicine Specialist who works in Hutt Hospital Emergency Department (ED). It is a role that keeps him on his feet, but it’s not the only thing that keeps him well on his feet. In his spare time David runs, wins, and regularly takes out course records in ultramarathons (50km-320kms races compared to your traditional 42km marathon race). In February he competed in the 51km Tarawera Ultra. An iconic event held in Rotorua that is also a qualifying race for UTMB World Championship in Europe. He took some time out from shift work and running to tell us about his achievements and how he fits it all in.

Why did you chose a career in health and what do you love most about your job?

I chose emergency medicine as no day is the same. You can often make a really meaningful difference to patients’ lives. Plus it involves lots of pragmatism and practical skills. There is rarely a dull moment.

What's a typical day look like for you?

It is always busy and different. There is triage, diagnosis, and looking after patients presenting to the Hutt Valley Emergency Department. We perform clinical and non-clinical management, ensuring a safe and efficient department. We can receive referrals from GPs. We supervise training doctors performing procedures, as well as doing procedures ourselves and liaising with speciality teams. We also review patient progress and speak to family members, keeping them updated on their whānau.

What were the last three things you did in your job today?

  • I used procedural sedation to put a six year olds, very broken arm back into a normal position and cast it
  • I treated an elderly patient with sepsis,
  • I spent a lot of time today with a mentally unwell patient.

What gets you out of bed every day?


What would you say to someone who wants to a career in medicine?

Emergency medicine is a great field to work in. Try it and see if it is the right fit for you.

Tell us more about your love of running and competing in marathon events.

After moving to New Zealand from Scotland in 2016, and walking some of the amazing tracks and mountains in New Zealand, I started trail running. I loved the freedom and ability to experience an epic day-long walk within just a few hours.

Friends then started encouraging me to enter races. I manage to do pretty well in these. Generally I select events in places where I haven’t been or those which offer a unique challenges or experiences. I’ve managed to win many of these, and get a few course records along the way.

Some notable wins include Queenstown marathon; Whitianga Marathon; the Great Kauri Run; Kawerau King of the Mountain; Tarawera 22k; Cape Kidnappers trail run; the Taniwha 42k and 21k race, and the Nugget trail run. All of these events have great memories and stories attached to them for me.

I have also tried my hand at triathlons. I managed to do well in a number of New Zealand events, and then qualified for and competed in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. This was an amazing experience.

Besides the running and competing, what do you like about attending these events?

The running community never ceases to amaze me. You can’t find a more kind, dedicated, compassionate, diverse, all-inclusive, and friendly group of people. I feel lucky to have met and shared experiences with phenomenal runners and supporters along the way.

I now coach other runners and endurance athletes with a company called TrialAthlete. It is really rewarding to share my secrets and help people achieve their goals.

What was it like winning the Tarawera 50km ultramarathon and what does it mean for you personally?

Tarawera is a really special event. I lived in Rotorua for a year. I love the trails, lakes and mountains there. It is also one of the biggest running events in Oceania and a qualifier for the big European and American events so it draws out all the best runners from Aotearoa and around the world. The people, culture and beauty of Rotorua really shine through.

The 51km race was fast. I just ran my own race and enjoyed myself being back running the amazing trails in Whakarewarewa forest. I took the lead 35km in and I didn’t look back, finishing a clear 7 minutes ahead of the rest of the field. Hopefully I will get a chance to go to the UTMB world championship after winning my entry at this event but it does depend on if I can find the time off to get to Europe

The support on the Tarawera course and finish line was incredible to experience. I was absolutely chuffed to have taken the course record in the 51k. Even better, my record for the 22km Tarawera course remains unbroken from the previous year.

What’s coming up next?

My next event was the Old Ghost Road Ultra on the West coast of the South island late February. This is an 85km race across the Old Ghost road mountain cycle track with almost 3000m of elevation. Another event I did well in and enjoyed trying out and experiencing.

After that, I plan to do the Ring of Fire Ultra in March around the volcanoes of the central plateau.

How often do you train for these events and fit it all in around shift work?

I do something most days, whether this is cycling to work, swimming, running, or some strength-work at home. I have done shift-work for over 10 years now so it is something I have got used to. I always start with optimising getting a good sleep and good food, and then the rest should fall into place.

What is your advice for people wanting to do an ultra or even start running?

Start small and build up gradually. Set goals that scare you, and put in the work. The work will pay off in the long run. Also do let me know if you want a coach.

Do you have a favourite quote that’s inspired you?

I have many. Simply though, the main mantra is “live life to the fullest.”

What's the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given - professional or personal or running wise?

Enjoy yourself, be kind, and take nothing for granted.

Photos courtesy of: Cameron McKenzie