Better late than never 

Little remained of the second annual Missoula Marathon’s downtown fanfare when Cheri Gross crossed the finish line at 1:15 p.m. Sunday. Just two race personnel, a friend from her hometown of San Antonio, Texas, and a string of balloons tied to a Yamaha ATV.

Not exactly a wild finish for her 90th marathon.

But the absence of onlookers—more than an hour earlier hundreds had lined the median of the Higgins Avenue bridge—did not mean a lack of excitement. The race reps clapped and cheered as the smiling Gross made her way down the bridge’s east-side walkway. She was the event’s last official finisher, 406 out of 406 runners.

“I appreciated so much the kindness of the people to hang around and [present me with] a medal,” said Gross, who most recently ran the Pacific Crest Marathon in late June.

Glancing at her watch, Gross, 55, clocked her Missoula time at roughly 7 hours, 15 minutes. Not her best, but not her worst, she said. The timing chip Velcroed to her ankle had been dead weight for over an hour. Official timing stopped at noon.

Unlike Elliot Bassett, who secured first overall hours beforehand, finishing in 2 hours, 44 minutes, Gross was not so much concerned with time–a viewpoint shared by Missoula’s Lee Conway. Conway, 38, arrived outside the Wilma Theatre about 30 minutes before Gross, but after officials had ripped up the duct tape at the end line.

“I was just happy to be able to finish,” Conway said, satisfied that he’d “proven whatever it is I set out to prove.”

Gross and Conway were the only two racers to cross the finish line after the six-hour cutoff, a drop in the bucket compared to the roughly 20 who crossed late in 2007. According to Race Director Jennifer Straughan, officials last year continued timing runners to the very end.

Gross remained humble about her 90-marathon accomplishment. Her friend at the finish line, 63-year-old attorney Larry Macon, began marathon running in his early 50s. Macon completed his 458th marathon on Sunday in 5 hours, 38 minutes.
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