Matt Choi runs ultras and is a sub-3 marathoner, but he’s on a mission to convey that running isn’t only about physical accomplishments, it’s about the joy and sense of community that it can bring. He’s not afraid to share his own shortcomings, highlighting the importance of owning up to failures and using them as stepping stones to growth.
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As a child, moving frequently taught Matt how to be adaptable. “It’s the ability to be comfortable in spaces that aren’t comfortable,” he says. “So many people are afraid to meet new communities because they’re like, ‘Oh my God, how am I gonna interact?’ I think moving as a kid so much and being the new kid on the block forced me and my brother to get super comfortable handshaking or talking to the person next to you. Because if you want to meet new people in a new city or a new place or a new club, you’re gonna have a jaded point of view if you don’t talk to anyone versus ingraining yourself into the community. Those two people will have two different experiences when they go to a run club, one person that doesn’t talk to anyone and then someone that’s willing to go talk to everybody. And I think finding a happy medium through my time of traveling a lot as a kid forced me to get really good at both.”
Being part of a community is one of the things that appeals to Matt about running. “I love the running space because everywhere I go, to a city that I don’t know anyone, if I go by myself or I go with my media team, I know I’m gonna find a friend because that’s what running does. And I think for someone that’s listening to this podcast, understand that if you’ve been seeking community, if you’ve been seeking challenges or getting better in your own wellness, there’s something special about this space because the people that are in it, they’re super, super community driven.”
Matt is a fast runner, and he enjoys challenging himself and setting PRs, but what he wants to bring to the running community is an understanding that it isn’t the pace that matters, but the pleasure that can come from running. “I hope that for people that watch my content, they can see that you can also have pure fun and bliss just by respecting the fact that you can move your body. Accomplishing a marathon is something that most people on this earth will never do. But if you put your mind to it, if you put your body to it, a lot of humans can do it, if they just put the time aside.
“So I think through my content of what I eat in a day during a race, how I prep for something, or showing the engagement that the community offers on a marathon day, it helps to inspire other people like, ‘Oh shit, I could have fun at a marathon. Everyone told me marathons suck. Everyone told me marathons hurt. But I see this guy eating doughnuts, having a beer, celebrating with people that are cheering with him even though they’re strangers.’ And I’ve done the fast marathon, but I swear to God, the most impactful content has been not me just running fast, it’s me taking time in these moments to talk to fans that have been helping me along this journey, to engage with strangers, provide positive encouragement or feedback to strangers that I don’t know because smiling to someone next to you when they’re really hurting can really help them.”
He hopes that being open and honest is another way that he can help people. This past winter, he trained for the Houston Marathon, but by the time he went to sign up, the race was sold out. He found someone who was registered but unable to run and raced wearing his bib, not realizing how serious an infraction of the rules that was and how it might be perceived by others. “I ended up running a sub three-hour marathon, which is a Boston qualifying time for my age group, which then created a version of, ‘Oh, Instagram influencer is trying to be a bib mule and getting other people into Boston,’ where the reality of the situation was as an entrepreneur, as a business owner, I just had a lot of shit going on, and I wanted to problem solve something that I clearly had made a human error on in terms of not signing up.”
Matt hadn’t made a secret of running Houston; he covered it extensively on his social media, and many of his followers had no idea that he had done anything wrong. Neither did Matt, until Marathon Investigation reported on his race. He knew that responding publicly would draw further attention to his transgression, but thought that it could serve as a valuable lesson for others. “That video then became something of me highlighting the issue even further because the people that read the article, that’s a smaller number of people. Most people that follow me aren’t elite runners or they’re not hard core runners; they’re people that are just getting into the sport. So I was then using my platform to educate more people not to make a similar mistake, which happens at almost every single marathon. And if you’re just Joe Schmo, you’ll be able to run in someone’s bib and no one’s gonna really care. But I think if you are someone that has any influence, if you’re someone that’s in the running space and you want to keep it pure, doing what I did is not the right thing. And I think for me to highlight that and understand that and be aware of it hopefully helps other people not to make the same mistake.”
He also wanted his followers to understand that it’s all right when they do make mistakes. “I think when you’re able to be human and relatable and showcase that ‘Hey, we all make mistakes’ and not be afraid to get judged, it’s powerful and hopefully it’s inspiring for other creators or other athletes that are in the space because it’s inevitable. We’re all gonna make a mistake here and there. It’s about how you treat yourself and how you own that failure and mistake that I think is what makes character. Like, what is the definition of character? It’s who you are at your lowest and your highest. So I just felt like I wanted to share that and hopefully help someone else down the line.”
Houston was Matt’s first marathon of the year, and while it wasn’t an auspicious start, he didn’t let the negative fallout from it prevent him from pursuing his goal of running 12 marathons in 12 months. He just completed the Chicago Marathon, his tenth of the year. His next goal is one that’s close to his heart: running the Four Rivers Trail in Korea, to experience the country where his parents grew up. “It’s a trail that covers almost the entire length of Korea, from Seoul all the way down to the coast of Busan, which is the west to the east coast. It’s 393 miles. And I want to cover the distance in 15 days. If you do the math, it’s exactly 26.2 miles every day to cover 393 miles. It’s almost a blessing. And the goal would be to accomplish 15 marathons in 15 days.
“To someone that’s like, ‘You know, Matt, you’re gonna break yourself off. How are you gonna do this?, what I’ve been telling people is, ‘Before I ran a marathon, I never thought I could do a marathon. Before I did 50 miles, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I only ran 26 miles.’ Before I ran 100 miles, the furthest I ever ran was 50 miles.’ There’s so many lessons that we can learn as humans in the unknown. It’s stepping into that thing that seems so audacious, that seems so crazy. But that’s where we learn. Like when you keep doing the same thing that you’ve always done in the gym or in your running routine, then your mind starts to get closed off into the opportunities and the possibilities of what the human spirit, body, and mind can actually do.
“People have done 50 marathons in 50 days. So someone, they’re gonna be like, ‘Matt, that’s a walk in the park.’ For someone else, they’re gonna say it’s impossible. Hopefully, within the content I’m able to produce, people can understand that the only person that you should ever compare yourself to is yourself.
“If I don’t accomplish it, I’m gonna story tell about what I learned and why I failed and from there, it’ll be motivation to then go do it again or attempt it again. If more people took their failure as an opportunity to just say, ‘This is a lesson; I’m gonna learn from this,’ you wouldn’t be so scared to put yourself out there, to be exposed, to quote unquote, fail. And I’ve gotten so comfortable with the opportunity to fail that the thought of it doesn’t even process in my mind. It’s like, ‘Yeah, if I don’t accomplish it on the 11th day, if something happens to me, I’m just gonna say, ‘Well, I gave it my best for 11 days and let’s figure out how we can either continue or how we can regroup and do this again in the future.’ I’d rather risk failing than regret never attempting it. And that’s just how I live this life and I want to continue to live in that fashion.”
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