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updated: 7/17/2014 1:40 PM

Waukegan native finishes marathon in every state

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  • Joe Legat and wife Patty, son Joseph, and daughter Sophia celebrate his 50Sub4 achievement after the Kona Marathon.

    Joe Legat and wife Patty, son Joseph, and daughter Sophia celebrate his 50Sub4 achievement after the Kona Marathon.
    Courtesy of Douglas Ogurek

Submitted by Douglas Ogurek

Ice filled Joe Legat's hat as he ran along Hawaii's Big Island. The Waukegan native hoped the ice would keep him cool enough to complete a goal that he had pursued for 15 years: to run a marathon in less than four hours in every state.

That's the ultimate aim of the 50Sub4 Marathon Club, and when a man dressed like a Hawaiian warrior blew a conch shell to signal the start of the Kona Marathon on June 22, only 52 people had achieved it.

Four years ago, Legat ran a Hawaii marathon and didn't make it; he was six minutes over the four-hour mark. That's why he came back this June.

Although Legat now lives in Las Vegas, he admits his biggest weakness is heat.

"It was a lot easier when I was running along the lakefront on Pershing Avenue," said Legat referring to his Waukegan origins. "The ideal marathon weather is 50, but I prefer 35 to 40 degrees." During his second Hawaii attempt in June, the temperature reached the mid-80s.

Legat had replaced the ice in his hat 15 times by the time he crossed the Kona Marathon finish line, where his wife, son, and daughter greeted him. He finished third in his age group and 23rd out of 248 runners with a time of 3:38:51. Joe Legat has become the 53rd person to conquer the 50Sub4 challenge.

Legat was initiated into the world of running when his mother, the late Joan Legat, took him to Waukegan Park District track meets at Weiss Field.

"The park district was ahead of its time in terms of giving ribbons at least five places deep," said Legat. "This encouraged young kids like me to stay in the sport. I still have some of the ribbons that I won."

Legat was so fond of these track meets that he returned as an adult volunteer for timing and place picking.

In the '80s and '90s, Legat could be seen running all over Waukegan. He remembers the smell of fresh cut lumber as he passed the Grand Avenue lumber yard while running on the bike path. Sometimes he ran from his house on Oak Tree Lane to the beach, then north until the Johns Mansville area, where the break wall prevented him from going any farther.

Legat ran his first marathon in 1989 in Chicago. He lost both of his big toenails and hobbled for a week. Ten years later, he ran the Death Valley Marathon in California, where he had a better experience. He then made a New Year's resolution to run a marathon in each month of 2000.

During the Los Angeles Marathon that year, Legat noticed another runner's T-shirt. It read, "I've run a marathon in every state." Thus, Legat's goal to run a marathon in every state was born.

Legat's journey to 50Sub4 was not an easy one. He ran back-to-back marathons (two marathons in two days) seven times "to knock off two states with one plane ticket." He flew to New York City, where getting to a 10 a.m. start line required waking up at 1 a.m. his time (Pacific Time Zone), hailing a taxi, boarding a ferry, riding a bus, and then walking to the staging area.

Then there were the physical issues like a painful foot condition called Morton's neuroma and a heart problem called atrial fibrillation. In 2012, Legat had heart surgery, which has prevented further AFIB episodes.

Legat has even taken to the road while ill.

"There's a big investment in airfare, hotel expenses, and entry fees," he said. "So if you're feeling a little sick, you have to suck it up and do the race."

Most people call it a day after running a marathon. In 2010, after Legat missed his Hawaii goal by six minutes, he worked off a little steam by climbing Mauna Kea, Hawaii's highest point, that same day.

He has also climbed to the highest point in every other state (including the District of Columbia), with one exception: Alaska. Legat has only heard of one person who has achieved the 50Sub4 challenge and climbed every state high point.

He may wait a few years, or even until retirement, to finish that goal. When he does start the final ascent, at least he won't have to worry about his heat weakness: the 20,000-foot summit of Mt. McKinley dips to negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

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