BY MATT JORDAN
Michael Youchak’s legs can thank his eyes.
A little less than 26.2 miles away from hanging up the running shoes, Youchak and his buddy were in the Big Apple for the New York Marathon in 1998 when they noticed the shirts of some of the other runners proclaiming membership in the 50-state club.
“And the idea was born,” said Youchak, a former Moxham resident who graduated from Greater Johnstown in 1980.
Along with Mike Forbeck, Youchak is closing in on completing the 50 marathons in 50 states goal, yet the two have taken it even farther.
They will also have completed a marathon in the nation’s capital, giving them full status in the 50 States and D.C. Marathon Group.
But even that’s not enough.
When the idea was hatched, the pair gave themselves a deadline: Fifty marathons in 50 states before the age of 50.
Youchak, 44, and Forbeck, 49, who both reside in Pittsburgh, plan to take part in the North Olympic Discovery Marathon in Port Angeles, Wash., today, the final chapter in the country-wide effort.
But there is more to the pair than running. Youchak and his brother, Tom, have raised more than $250,000 while racing in Florida and Forbeck has raised more than $100,000 for charity.
Youchak lists the Leukemia Society and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary among his benefiting charities.
It’s been a long trek for Youchak, who got his start in running after graduating from Penn State in 1984.
While working in Johnstown for H.F. Lenz, Youchak and another friend, Earl Waddell, began racing the 10K (6.2 miles) circuit.
“The first time I ran, with Earl Waddell, he and I did a 10K, the Mercy Me, and that’s where it started. Mercy Hospital had a 10K race, and my first one was in 1986, with Earl.
“After that, Earl and I were running together and we got bored doing 10Ks because they were too short.”
Youchak and Waddell made the jump with the 1988 Pittsburgh Marathon, and Youchak spent the next 10 years racing there, hooking up with Forbeck in 1991. But again, Youchak grew bored and he and Forbeck decided to race in New York, then call it quits.
“We were just doing the Pittsburgh Marathon, once a year, and then we just got burned out, tired and bored doing the same thing,” said Youchak, who has his own environmental engineering consulting business in Pittsburgh. “We went to New York City because I always dreamed of doing that, and then we could retire.
“Then we saw the shirts, and we thought, ‘That’s a great idea, let’s do that.’ ”
The two began by running two or three marathons a year, but as they started to get older, the numbers had to climb if they were going to make it by Forbeck’s 50th, which is in November.
Youchak and Forbeck are coming off their heaviest year of racing, finishing eight marathons a year ago, and have already done three this year, the latest came in Fort Collins, Colo., a few weeks ago.
Youchak, the youngest of three sons of Michael and Virginia Youchak, has raced with his brother, Tom, in five marathons, and grew up sprinting against his other brother, Greg, at the old Cochran Junior High School.
Of course, the question begs to be asked: Why such a task?
“You get hooked on the endorphins, you get hooked on the high (of running marathons),” Youchak said. “This is one good thing, and I tell my friends this, when you run these big races, such as New York City, there’s 2 million spectators. There’s no other sport that you have 2 million people cheering you on.
“Football, NASCAR, baseball, you don’t have 2 million people cheering you on. It gives you the inspiration and the drive to get it done. Then again, we’ve done races where there are more cows and horses spectating than people.”
From those offbeat marathons in the nation’s farmland, to Bar Harbor, Maine, (“the most scenic of the marathons”), to Chicago (“my personal best time”) and even to Dublin, Ireland, Youchak has enjoyed the travel and the experience of camaraderie surrounding such events.
“From doing these marathons, I continually see friends that I have met before,” Youchak said. “It’s part camaraderie, it’s part keeping fit – very fit – and part keeping your head on straight.”
But don’t expect Youchak to hang up the running shoes for good anytime soon. The racing bug is back, and the former Johnstown tennis player has plans to continue competing in adventure races, which combine cross country running, mountain biking, kayaking, rappelling, rock climbing and orienteering, and last a day or more.
Youchak and Forbeck have also run the Rachel Carson Trail race, a 34-mile cross county race in the Pittsburgh area. It’s a grueling task that takes Youchak nine hours to finish. And on top of that, one year’s race cost him five toenails.
“We have done adventure racing, and as we’re getting older, we have to step it down,” Youchak said. “Instead of doing eight marathons, we are going to do some marathons and some adventure racing.”