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Running Korea: Matt Choi's Journey of Discovery and Endurance

Carrera

, by Fabienne Lang

Matt Choi on the road through South Korea. Photography by: @acinthemind

“Most people only look at the end result. But I think, at times, it's appreciating the fact that you're willing to attempt it.” – Matt Choi.

You may have heard of Matt Choi, a name that's making waves in the athletic and content creation spheres. At the age of 28, this Austin-based Korean American athlete embarked on an extraordinary journey: running the length of South Korea over 10 days in November. “This run had been on my radar for a year and a half after a friend showed me the route,” he says. “I saw this as an opportunity for me to not only just do a physical challenge, but to also see my parents’ culture with them. The last time I came to Korea was when I was seven and my parents sent my brother and me to visit.”

The age-old adage, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” springs to mind as Matt describes his 294 mile / 474 km South Korean running odyssey. His path carved an artery through the heart of Korea, from the vibrant pulse of Seoul to the coastal allure of Busan. It was a way to blend his love for sports with his desire to reconnect with his Korean heritage.

Photography by: @acinthemind

“This felt like a special moment and a capstone project to end the year off with a bang,” Matt explains. He not only conquered a marathon every month this year but also defied expectations by completing his South Korean run two days ahead of schedule. Even though the logistics weren’t perfectly carved out, raising a few eyebrows among sponsors, his resolve remained unshaken. “I think I'm the type of person that likes to be thrown into the fire, because that's just how I learn best.”

There’s a thin line between dancing in the flames and smouldering to a crisp. Matt teetered on that line. Notably, he chose to run his first ever ultra-distance challenge in an environment that was mostly foreign to him, use a language he didn’t know well, and face last-minute logistical hurdles, including securing a van driver with 24 hours to spare.

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Moreover, by day five, Matt was dealing with foot pain that would make Cinderella trade in her glass slipper for a pair of orthopaedic sneakers. He confesses, “I felt bad because everything was being pushed back for the whole team. We were eating dinner later. We were getting into the hotel later. And now I was dealing with pain halfway through the challenge, so it was the moment when I started having some doubts.” Yet, anchored by a resilient spirit, he pressed on, affirming, “I just kept telling myself that we just have to take it one day at a time. And if I have to walk, then I have to walk. That was my plan B.”

It was an ambitious undertaking. His secret weapons? A positive inner monologue, an unyielding desire to unearth his Korean roots, and a dedicated support team including his brother on a bike, a running videographer, and a last-minute van driver. The result unfolded against the backdrop of Korea's landscapes, where East met West.

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Matt journeyed to South Korea in search of a better connection and understanding of his Korean roots, and his infectious energy and curiosity ensured he found them. Conversations with locals served as bridges between cultures, weaving a tale where the best of both worlds converged. He cherished moments like a breakfast chat in a local bagel joint, where the owner taught him to say, 'I'm running from Seoul to Busan' in Korean. There was also the spontaneous encounter with an apple farmer who, upon learning of the journey, “asked us to pick a couple of apples and take them with us. The whole team stopped and ate these delicious apples together with the farmer. It was so fun to share that moment with him on his farm,” he explains. Given the number of calories he was burning every day, it’s no surprise most of Matt’s memorable moments involved food. However, it was the connections that enchanted him. Call it nutrition of the soul if you wish.

Photography by: @acinthemind

Matt also experienced some special exchanges on the “racetrack.” While much of his run was a solo venture, a few brave souls joined him along the route. “I had some friends from Seoul join me on days six and seven. It really helped me because this was right after my foot was in pain. Then on the second to last day there was someone who follows me online that lives in a small, rural town who found us as we were running. I think he ended up running a personal best that day: 31km. He had never run more than half a marathon before. It was really fun to share that with him.”

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Beyond the physical feat, Matt's run unravelled layers of his family's past. He planned his route to pass through his grandparents’ villages to see where they grew up. It was a unique way to connect with his roots and discover the rich tapestry of his family history and culture. It was more than his adventure; after the finish line, it became a Choi family reunion, marking the first time his mother, father, brother, and himself all gathered in Korea.

Photography by: @acinthemind

As Matt triumphantly crossed the finish line in Busan, the culmination of a physical and cultural odyssey, he reflects, “The biggest thing I'm proud of is the internal conversation I was having with myself. I was full of gratitude, not only for the fact of what my body and my mind were able to push through, but also for the time that the people that supported me put into this. For whatever reason, they believed in the vision I had.”

For Matt, the journey transcended the physical. “I feel as if life is meant to be lived in the unknown,” he explains. The sense of accomplishment and gratitude emanate, marking this run not just in kilometres but as a cultural joyride – a narrative woven with laughter, challenges, and heart-warming encounters. It reminds us that it's not just about reaching the destination – it's about taking chances by jumping into the fire and embarking on a remarkable journey.