On December 7, Don Choi of San Francisco was inducted into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame. Choi is the 20th ultrarunner to earn the honor and the second inductee for 2021.
Choi’s Hall of Fame page, written by Ultrarunning History showrunner Davy Crockett, chronicles the extensive accomplishments of Choi, now 73. Among his many noteworthy accomplishments, Choi once held every American running record for distances over 100 miles. In 1984, he became the first modern-era American to run over 500 miles in six days.
“Don Choi was the ‘father of the multi-day race’ by being the first to organize these races in the modern era of ultrarunning. He was perhaps the most prolific modern six-day runner ever,” Crockett said of Choi.
“He was so well-respected and admired by others and always ran with a smile on his face. Even today he shies away from the spotlight and just focuses on the memories he has of his ultrarunning friends from the early days.”
Choi did more than just race ultras. In the early 1980s, he reignited interest in six-day races — an event he was inspired to pursue after reading Ed Dodd‘s research on 19th-century pedestrianism.
Choi organized (and also won) the Spirit of ’80 6-Day Track Race, the first official six-day race since 1903. On July 4, 1980, endurance runners gathered in Woodside, California, to bring the format into the modern era.
Choi also cultivated experience organizing and participating in fixed-time track races. Notably, in 1978, he ran his first 24-hour race with an eye on breaking Ted Corbitt’s 1973 24-hour American record.
He succeeded, running 136.4 miles in a day, thereby besting Corbitt’s 134.7. In doing so, Choi also clocked 100 miles in 14 hours and 44 minutes, his lifetime record for the distance.
And as more six-day races started to appear, both stateside and abroad, Choi turned his attention from race directing to competing. He set his sights on being the first American to break the 500-mile barrier during a six-day race; a feat proved possible by British ultrarunners. Predictably, the postman from California set records at more than a few events along the way.
In April 1984, Choi ran 506 miles at the New Astley Belt Six-Day Race in El Cajon, California. A few months later, he upped that record to 511 miles. All in all, during the 1980s, Choi was the most prolific six-day runner globally, running 21 six-day races and winning nine of them.
His thirst for distance extended beyond the six-day format, too. In 1985, Choi won the Sri Chinmoy 1,000 Mile Race in Flushing Meadows, New York, where he set the American record of 15 days, 6 hours, 24 minutes, and 43 seconds. Later in his career, he would go on to finish events like the Western States 100, Badwater 135, and Spartathlon.
Choi ran his final ultra in 1997 when he quietly retired from the sport. He continued to run and did compete in several marathons after that. A career postal worker, Choi is still delivering mail in San Francisco, with no plans to retire. In fact, the day that he learned about his induction to the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame, Choi worked more than 14 hours on his various mail routes.
He shared the following with Crockett in an email after learning of his honor:
“My long day after learning of my induction was filled with much thought and reflection. Not about my running or what I have done. My thoughts were occupied with all the wonderful people I met and how much many individuals have changed and enriched my life for me.”
Choi joins Eric Clifton as this year’s additions to the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame. For Hall of Fame consideration, candidates must either have retired from competition 10 or more years ago or have reached the age of 60 and made significant contributions to the sport.