The Back Of The Pack

Finishing Last - Something Few Experience

By Gary Pulver

Every race has two things almost for certain, one person who crosses the finish line first and one person who crosses the finish line last. I have read other tales of the person who finishes last. One I thought was interesting was about this trainer who just did not want any of her runners to finish last so after she ran a few miles in a race, she would run the other way to the back of the pack to make sure that she finished last and not one of her trainees.

I looked back at my record of all of my races and I have finished dead last in four of them so far. My first was a 3K on the 4th of July. I had been running with an elite group in Arlington and they put on this 3K so I felt I needed to support the group. This group was led by Joe Boyle, an ex Olympic steeplechaser/distance runner. He had some pretty decent athletes in his stable but "advertised" he would take all runners of all abilities and work with them. Did he work us!!! But, he did teach me tons that I still use in my running. I am sure I was the slowest member of his club when I was with them. He would say "okay, let's warm up with 7 laps around this field". I would be on my second lap while the fastest were finishing up. He had some 4 minute milers and runners that would soon qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon!!!!

It was 95 degrees at the start of the 3K. It was pretty brutal but 3K is not that far so it was not particularly bad. When I came in to the finish they were about to pick up all of the cones when I heard, "Wait, we have one more runner out there". But, you have to know that all of those runners were wonderful to me. I am still friends with many of them on facebook and they always "like" my running posts.

My second dead last finish was in a duathlon in Belleville, Illinois where one could just do the running part and not have to do the biking. The run was 5 miles. When I arrived, I figured out very quickly that I was a bit out of my league. I did not see anyone over 40 and only a handful were doing just the running part. It was part of a 3 races in 3 days thing I had signed up for so that I could cross 3 states off my list. I had run a 5K the day before in Lebanon, Ohio and had a 5K in Memphis the next day (labor day weekend). After about a mile into the race, it was quite clear that I would come in last. I felt I was running well and indeed finished at a 13:38 pace. At the 2 mile point I looked back and realized that there was one runner way behind me!!! I assumed (correctly) that she had arrived late and thought "well, maybe I won't be last". She caught me in the last mile, gave me a fist bump and sped away. Once again I surprised people at the finish line when I appeared, it was really no problem but I did not get an "official" time because I think I ran over the wrong finish line (one for those going on to the biking part). A good friend of mine who happened to live in the town came over to see me finish. She even took a photo of me finishing. I told her that it would take me a bit over an hour to finish so she should be there one hour into the race if she wanted to see me.

I believe I have documented my third last place finish in another column. The photo that accompanies my column was taken as I ran to the finish line. Again, I was a bit out of my league in signing up for the 10K that day. I was guaranteed first place in my age group if I finished since I was the only one registered. In fact, most of the runners were under 40 and many were very fast. This really did not bother me that much but I was a bit disillusioned when I totally lost site of the runner ahead of me about mile three. What was incredible about that race was that every volunteer stayed at their post until I passed them and every water stop was fully manned until I had passed. This should be the practice for every race, the race director should make sure that no runner is left out there by themselves at the end.

The last incidence of me finishing last (so far) was at a small 5K in Pahrump, Nevada a bit more than a year ago. It was a fundraiser for a child that had cancer so I am always willing to support those kinds of races. I had gone west for a great California race that traversed the Golden Gate Bridge so added this race to my trip. It was hot and dry but I had always heard that it was not hard to run in the low humidity of the desert. I was told there were no water stops for the 5K but I thought I would be fine but that was a big mistake. By mile two I was dragging and was very lucky that a bike rider went by me and I begged a drink from him that really helped me get to the finish. I was lucky that I could always see the runner ahead of me as the course was not that well marked. The crowd that greeted me was still enthusiastic and I certainly welcomed the bottles of water waiting for me, I hope you have enjoyed my tales of coming in last, I am hoping to be running many more years and if I come in last again that just won't be that big a deal.

Gary Pulver's Bio

Gary Pulver Gary was born in upstate New York in 1947, graduated from State University of New York at Geneseo in 1969, and taught one year of junior high math before joining the Air Force in 1970. Uncle Sam sent him to Texas where he was stationed in San Antonio, Wichita Falls and Abilene. He received his Masters Degree at Abilene Christian University and moved to Arlington in 1974 where he taught junior high math for five years and was a junior high guidance counselor for for 34 years. He likes to joke that he spent 44 years in junior high.

Gary played baseball throughout his school years and was a good bowler through high school and college. He was on the Geneseo bowling team and once was part of a state championship team. Athletic endeavors were limited to softball once he moved to Arlington. He became a runner at the ripe old age of 63. He was nearing retirement when his wife said "Now you're not going to just sit around and play on the computer when you retire are you!!!" His reply was "How about I become a marathon runner!!" The stories of his running exploits will be described in his column but from a very humble beginning as a runner, he has trained with the likes of Bill Richardson and Joe Boyle and is currently a member of The Running Bear Running Club in Granbury where he and his wife, Karen, have retired. Early in his running career he made himself the goal of running a race in all 50 states. He has currently done so in 20 states and 3 countries and has races in 14 more states on his calendar to be completed by the end of September, 2015.

Gary's columns will focus on two aspects of running, the older runner and the slower runner, for he happily admits to being both of these.