Now that I've done both, the thought of doing either one again still terrifies me. I think it's safe to say that those two events will be among the most challenging things I'll be paying to do in my lifetime, so in case you are considering one or the other, let's do a little comparison shopping and see which one was worse.
As with any race, I completely agonized over what to wear, and with both races, the stakes were higher because I knew I'd be out a lot longer than a typical race. (14 + hours for the 50 miler, 12 hours for GORUCK).
50 Miler (Stone Mill, aka SM): I had two drop bags to fill with crap, and I needed to try to anticipate what I thought I might want at mile 23 compared to mile 39 (I was way off on both). I didn't really have to worry too much about food or hydration because there were so many aid stations. Basically I spent a lot of time packing a lot of crap that I never touched.
GORUCK (GR): I think the fact that I had to buy bricks and duct tape them together takes the cake. Not only that, in addition to freaking out about the weather, I had to try to plan for being submerged in water at some point in the night. I also had to bring all my own food and hydration, and water proof everything. Finally, I had to accept that everything I was going to wear may have to go directly in the trash when I was done.
Anxiety: My anxiety is totally out of control, so I anticipated the worst through a series of nightmares and daymares for both events. As a result, neither one was as horrible as I’d imagined.
SM: I ran through the woods for more than 50 miles, I had several falls, and mud and water were involved. Still, since the majority of the race was just running, with only the bottom of my feet hitting the dirt, it wasn’t too bad.
GORUCK: One of our first activites was belly crawling through mud. We were also assigned to cover ourselves in mud, and then jumped in some filthy water, heads under and everything. After that we did more running and relatively clean activites, but the damage was done. People are still trying to get the mud out of their clothes.
SM: Headlamps were required at the beginning of the race. I knew I’d be starting in the dark, but I didn’t know I’d be finishing in the dark. And by finishing, I mean running more than the last three hours in the dark. I still shudder thinking of that - running in darkness where you can’t see your hand in front of your face. If my headlamp had gone out, my life would have been over. One wrong step on a wet leaf and I was done. Terrifying.
GORUCK: It started at 10pm, so the darkness was all part of the package. I had my headlamp, and stayed in well lit neighborhoods. The only time I was in pitch blackness was the split second after I jumped in the harbor before I surfaced. Nothing to be scared of there.
|Several hours in with many to go - dark|
Winner: Stone Mill
Wetness (that’s what she said):
SM: The website boasted about an amazing stream crossing, but most of them were just little baby creeks. Little did I know that it would be at mile 47, in that pitch blackness, and it would be more like an icy river. I had to hold onto a rope to get across. Then, a few miles later, I got to do it again. Still, I was never wet above the waist, and most of the wetness was towards the end.
|I did a lot of this|
GR: Again, the word on the street was that all challenges featured getting in a body of water. When we were bear crawling through the marsh first thing, I thought that was it, and I was relieved, because it wasn’t too cold, and my head never went in. Little did I know that two hours or so later I’d be fully submerged. Jumping in the cold water was unpleasant, but it was also over in less than a minute. Hanging around in soaking wet clothes lasted hours and hours. Oh, and it rained.
SM: Running 50 miles can really mess with your head. Imagine running 10 miles and realizing you have 40 more to go. Just trying to keep running knowing how far I had to go was harder than I thought it would be. I struggled through a lot of low points where I felt weak, shaky, and totally defeated - early on in the race. It hit me at mile 23 and I went through some peaks and valleys after that. At the end of the race, the miles just kept increasing and defying math (for example, we were told we were at mile 44, but we had 9 miles to go). Never knowing how far we had to go or when the next magic increase would be wreaked havoc on my motivation. Add that to running on hilly, wet leave covered minefields in utter darkness and you have some serious mind games. Let’s not forget the icy stream crossing that cropped up.
GR: I went in knowing that I wasn’t going to have a clue how far I’d gone or how much longer it was going to last, so I think releasing that control ahead of time was really helpful (unlike Stone Mill, where I thought I knew what I was getting in to). Jackie kept telling me ahead of time that when I thought I couldn’t go on, just to remind myself it would get better. In the first minute or two, Colleen turned to me and told me that if I ever felt like I couldn’t handle it, I needed to come to her and tell her right away and she’d get me through it. That was such a confidence boost, and I honestly never wanted to quit or felt like I couldn’t make it through. I was actually in pretty good spirits most of the time, not exactly in the “yay, I love life, carrying telephone poles is awesome!” way, but in the “I feel calm and in no way like I’m close to an melt down” sort of way.
|It's all about the team|
Winner: Stone Mill
SM: I had to lift my legs out of bed one by one the next morning. I couldn’t walk at all the next day, but I healed fairly quickly after that.
|This is how I rolled after Stone Mill|
GR: My legs were just as sore, but using my arms to lift myself up was useless. EVERYTHING was in agony for three days, and just now am I even starting to get better. I also have cuts, bruises, and let’s not even talk about what running in wet shoes for 10 hours does to your feet.
|Everyone's favorite picture|
Sense of accomplishment:
SM: I trained for months for this, so it was fantastic to see it all pay off. Plus I got extra badass points for the surprise extra miles at the end. While I wasn’t thrilled with my time, I’m still pretty proud of myself for sticking it out. I can honestly say this race was the only time I’ve ever truly considered dropping out. There were times in those dark, hellish miles at the end that I prayed for the sweepers to pull us from the course (we were WAY over the cutoff limit, and in fact the sweepers even came back and started tearing down the course, telling Eric that all the runners were in while we were still out there!). All that considered, a huge sense of accomplishment.
GR: I laughed my ass off the first time I heard about this nonsense. Mike wanted me to try on his pack back in October for laughs and I had to be begged and coerced just to put it on for a picture, and even then I couldn’t wait to rip it off. I don’t do strength training. If I do, Jillian Michaels is involved. I very, VERY firmly put GORUCK in the “never, hell no, not if my life depended on it” category, so the fact that I completed this challenge is pretty amazing to me right now.
|Trying on the pack, thinking "hell no".|
Reaction from coworkers:
It’s pretty similar all around “You’re crazy” or “Why?” (I don’t know). Still, SM has the advantage of being able to just tell people what you did. “I ran 55 miles”. Boom, done, they understand. I’ve tried to explain GORUCK and obviously it takes forever and requires all sorts of details to be shared to get the point across. There was a rumor going around work today (ok, I started it) that I carried a telephone pole this weekend, so that was awesome.
|So it's like Warrior Dash? Is it a marathon?|
So, all in all, both of them were insanely difficult in different ways. It doesn’t seem logical, but while I think Stone Mill was harder, and it’s also the experience that I want to repeat. (Not Stone Mill, I’ll NEVER do that again. Doing another 50 miler is on my list though!).
Despite all that, nothing is worse than paintball. I’ll gladly take on another GORUCK or another Stone Mill before I’ll do even half an hour of paintball again.