Beat Fear By Admitting Fear

They say the FlatRock 101K is mile for mile the toughest course in mid-America. I suppose the only way to dispute that is register for the 2016 event and make your own judgement. I am certain what you read from here won’t quicken your pace to the registration page. You will need to check your ego at the door on this event.

My name is Tom Rogers. I am a 43 year from Joplin, MO. To encapsulate my biography, I have a beautiful wife, 2 amazing teenage children, operate my own race management and sales consulting business, lead a rather large Christ centered fitness ministry called The Red Sea Fitness Team, and have been sober from drugs and alcohol for 5.5 years after hearing the voice of God.

I have run several events at FlatRock, including 2-50K’s and 2-25’s. I attempted the 101K in 2014 and took a hard fall about 20 miles into the event. I pulled the plug soon after with a swollen knee, bruised shin, and honestly too much fear to attempt to finish. There, I said it.

The 2014 race has haunted me as my only DNF. I ran the 2014 Flint Hills 40 miler soon after in attempt to clean my emotional wounds, but I was left with even more doubt. Maybe the FlatRock 101K is out of my league. There isn't anything wrong with that. I can live with that. Wait, I can’t live with that.

So here I was again and having spent a good part of 2015 nursing a hip injury, I was certainly in no condition to defeat the beast today. The weather forecast called for highs of 82, which is 90 inside the belly of The Rock. I went out with a strategy to make it from one aid station to the next. I had already discussed with Nathan Sicher privately that 50K was likely all I had in the tank.

I actually felt pretty good for the tough 4 miles to Max’s Place, as I rolled in to top off my bottles and grab a light bite to eat. The temps were still cool, but I would not allow myself to get beat with bad nutrition or hydration. There are some things you can control and some things you can’t. Getting enough to eat and drink is up to you. Getting the body and course to cooperate; not so much.

The course was soft, but not soupy and had drained well from the week of rain. I continued stopping for a good drink and a bite of something every 30 minutes. I was moving slower than I needed to, but doing the best I could. I arrived at the 10 mile mark and was feeling fresh. My wife, son, and all the volunteers were so encouraging and it gave me a great boost. I was off to the first turn and only 6 miles to get there. The day is going really well.

I made it to Sean’s Sanctum (mile 15.6) realizing I was a few minutes behind the cutoff. My crew sprang into action and all the volunteer team catered to all my nutrition and hydration needs. What an amazing group of people at the Epic Ultra events. Worth the price of admission. I pulled out renewed, refreshed, and about 15 minutes behind schedule.

The 6 miles back was uneventful, as I continued to be diligent with my food and water. The last runner in the race passed me somewhere along the way, so I was unofficially the course sweeper now and not bothered in the least. I made it back to Oak Ridge (approx. mile 21) and sat for a bit. They say in an ultra that if you are feeling good, don’t worry it won’t last. I saw Eric Steele at this aid station and told him I believed today was the day. I’m not so sure he believed that. Not too long after, I would start eating those words.

I couldn't have been any further than 22 miles when the wheels completely came off. I kept asking myself how this could have gone so wrong, so fast. I began reciting my speech for the arriving at the 50K turn. That would be the end of my day. I wished to fall down and make it look like I was so brave, but just too hurt to continue. Beyond an aching knee, I had nothing to show up with but bad excuses.

The campground was piling up with DNF’s. I was now getting close to 30 minutes behind the cutoff schedule. I told my wife I only had 50K in me today. I heard voices around me complaining of injury and bad luck. I heard Eric tell me I had to go right now if I was going to continue. I was in an internal war and I couldn't live with it anymore. I put my pack back on and went back out for another round, knowing I wouldn't likely make it far.

There is a scene in Rocky 3 when Adrian asks Rocky what is wrong with him. He dances around the subject with a bunch of answers, but the truth finally comes out. He is afraid. None of us want to say that or admit that, but deep down fear gets in our way and paralyzes us. This might sound pretty sick but I couldn't take that anymore. I would rather die than be afraid. As selfish as that sounds, I was prepared for that. God was showing me a part of Him and I that I had never encountered.

The next 10 miles are a blur. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. There is no magic in that. I finally arrived at Oak Ridge and it was dark. I plopped down in the lawn chair and didn't want to move. I mean, 43 miles is a pretty good effort. Fortunately, my wife had other plans. She had Jenna Mutz bibbed up and ready to take me another 10 miles. I thought what the heck, I can probably make it to the 75K mark.

Jenna was a lifesaver for me and will go down as a critical piece to finishing. Her theatrics and animations on a dark, rocky, and ridiculous course are forever etched in my memory. It was probably the hardest I laughed all day. She talked and talked, not requiring me to answer and kept us moving at a quick pace. She was helping me make up the deficit in time I had created. The weather was cooling off and I began to feel like this might, just might happen today. We got to the 75K turn a couple of minutes under the cutoff. I was getting hopeful.

As we made our way back to Oak Ridge, we saw rats, snakes, slugs, and weird eyes in the brush. Jenna was hollering in the brush for them to keep away and kept repeating that it was only little bunny rabbits. Cory Chockley is also with us and the extra light and company is lifting my spirits. Let me be clear about one thing if you skip through the rest of this: DO NOT come here without a good pacer!

With “only” 10 miles to go, this is simply a survival march to the finish. You crawl on your hands and knees if you have to. Jenna was done with her pacing duties and now Cory and I were off to finish it up.

My stomach is wrecked, my legs are useless, and the bottoms of my feet are blistered. So, who wants to sign up for an ultra? Cory is wise beyond his 24 years and keeps asking me a lot of questions, sensing that I am fading. I literally either bend completely over in exhaustion or sit on a copperhead infested rock every ½ mile to get my heart rate down. God is carrying me. There is no other explanation for even taking another step at this point.

We are watching the time very closely and breaking down the splits every time we stop. We only have so much time to rest and then we must keep moving. Imagine getting to end of a 101K race and not being recognized as an official finisher by missing the time cutoff.

The last 4 miles are a miracle. Cory steadies me on several hills so I don’t plunge off a cliff and several times my knees would just fold up. We finally get off the trail and onto the road section with 40 minutes before cutoff. I am holding vomit down the best I can, shaking like a leaf, and crying like a newborn. I actually start running again and continue all the way through the finish, never so glad to see Eric Steele. All of my family and friends are there and cheering. It’s one of the most overwhelming experiences I have ever been involved in.

There are way too many people to thank by name and missing one would be an injustice. From the aid station volunteers, race director, the Mayo’s, the competitors, my family, my friends, my best friend Valerie Rogers.

Most of all, I thank God. I thank Him and praise Him for creating this beautiful landscape and challenge. He taught me we are capable of more, to see people the way He sees them, to never quit fighting a good fight, and to strip the power out of fear. I hope you will put yourself in a position soon to find you that God purposed you to be. Don’t be afraid of fear. See you next year!