Grindstone 100 Race Preview

Anyone who says East Coast ultras are easier than western ones hasn’t run races like Massanutten 100 or the Grindstone 100. I cut my teeth on ultrarunning in the East, running in NC, SC, VA, WV, DC, and FL and I can attest to the fact that the East offers some of the gnarliest trail and stiff climbs in the country. I wrote an article about East vs West for Ultrarunning magizing a couple years ago that compared and contrasted the two. With a perfect weather forecast of 45-70 degrees and dry, this Friday sees the start of the 4th annual Grindstone in Swoope, VA (139 registrants at this point). The race features a unique 6PM start time that ensures all entrants, including the winner, will run one full night. Karl Meltzer set the standard in 2009 with an 18:46 run that still stands as the course record. Sandi Nypaver set the current women’s record in 2010 with her 23:05 effort.

With 23,200 ft of climb crammed into the out and back 100 mile course, Grindstone stands up with races like Wasatch and Bear 100s as among the US’s most difficult at that distance. Indeed, the event website states it best in its opening description, “Grit, endurance, temporary loss of sanity. You might need all these if you want to finish, well, just keep in mind this is, without a doubt, the hardest 100 miler east of the 100th meridian.”

I asked Karl Meltzer his thoughts and whether there’s anything that stands out in his mind about the Grindstone event, since he’s run most of the big 100s in the country and certainly has run all of the most difficult ones. Karl responded, “The only thing odd is the start time, but the venue is great for that. 12 hours of darkness is alot longer than most races, especially for the front runner. It’s well run and marked extremely well. Clark Zealand the RD does a great job. Also great shirts for finishers from Patagoochi. Rare in this sport.”

Grindstone 100 elevation profile

If running 12 hours straight through the night over technical singletrack doesn’t give pause to potential applicants, then the elevation profile will do the trick:

Forget about the massive climbs and descents in the middle of the race, that 4,500 ft descent over the last seven miles of the race makes my palms sweaty.  If you don’t pamper your quads during the race, you’ll certainly pay the price in the form of agony over the final miles.

There are 15 aid stations and a live webcast updating runners’ progress through those stations.  Live updates at

As always, we welcome comments and would love to hear readers’ predictions for men’s and women’s contenders, personal experience with this race, opinions on how this stacks up against the tough 100s in the US and/or Canada, and any other thoughts on this event.

13 thoughts on “Grindstone 100 Race Preview

    • Though I can’t find anything specifically stated, I’m guessing that the course must have been changed after the first year (2008) when Krissy ran it. Sandi’s time is stated as the course record in numerous sources, including the event’s website itself.

      I think I’ll give Grindstone a shot next year. My ankles hurt just thinking about it.

  1. This article raises an interesting view that seems to be fairly pervasive within the larger ultrarunning community: why is Barkley not considered a 100-mile ultra race? Hardrock seems to be considered the hardest “conventional” 100-miler (at least in the U.S.–I don’t know too much about foreign ultras other than UTMB), and now it seems the Grindstone 100 considers itself the most difficult one in the eastern part of the U.S. Essentially, what gives?

    • Hi Dylan. Yeah, Neal would be my pick. Matt Hart is on the list. Also Keith Knipling always runs strong. The entrant list is on the home page of the site if you scroll down. I don’t recognize any of the women (bad excuse, I know).

  2. Tim, Local insider Mike Bailey penned a prediction post of his own on Grindstone. If nothing else, it helps you, IT readers AND me know who to look out for.

    Tory, I’ve “run” MMT twice and all I can say about the rocks and the course is that whatever stories you’ve heard, they’re all true. I am running Grindstone for the first time this weekend and while I respect the course, and the stories I have heard, I can’t imagine it being more difficult than MMT.

  3. I think most ultra runners don’t consider the Barkley to be comparable to “regular” 100’s- too much orienteering, too low finishing rate. There’s, what, 10 finishers in the history of the race? I recall reading Speedgoat Karl say something to that effect, too, that he thinks Hardrock is the hardest, and doesn’t consider Barkley.

    Good luck to all the runners. Hoping to check this one off my list in the next few years. Anyone know the degree of rocky-ness, on a scale of 0 to MMT?

  4. Guys watch out for a local runner named Frank Gonzales. He should be your dark horse favorite to win. He has been ripping it up in the Lynchburg Ultra Series and I believe he has finished the BEAST series before. If he has a good race he may podium or take the overall.

  5. No weekend wrap guys? Nada on KJB’s DNF? No love for Nipmuck Trail Marathon? Nothing on who is in the running for the WS directorship (Thornley, Fingar, Dunlap, Copeland? 😉 Not hyping up the SF NF 50 yet? Come on, I need my fix.

  6. Hey folks. The Grindstone Course was “upgraded” in 2009. The originial ’08 course was closer to 97 miles, and wasn’t quite at the advertised 23,000 ft of climb (I think was closer to 20-21k). Still a formidable course when Krissy and Sabrina ran. Sandi’s 23:05 record reflects the new 100+ mile layout and actual 23k. Donna Utakis is the only other woman to break 24 on the current course (23:34 in ’09). Neal Gorman is the overall favorite, but most VA folks are well aware of Frank Gonzalez, who has really redefined himself the last few years. MMT’s rocks will hurt your feet and joints, Grindstone’s climb and descents will hurt your quads. I think MMT’s rock negate a runner’s speed more than Grindstone’s climbs. Strong climbers would fare well at both events, but the payoff is more at Grindstone. MMT hurts the typical fast frontrunner more because no matter what your marathon time and v02 max is, you can only go so fast over those rocks. I’ve seen the same group of mid-pack men/women run 27-28 hours at Grindstone, and 30-32 hours consistently at MMT. Just my silly two cents, but I hope it helps.

    • Super comment, Mike! Thanks for the solid information. We’ll have to keep an eye on Frank. MMT100 is a race that I think I might just admire from afar. It sounds brutal. Thanks again,Tim

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