Saturday, October 15, 2011

Which is harder? Massanutten or Grindstone?

We ultrarunning fanatics are a quirky bunch, that’s for sure.  It is not uncommon- and laughable, in a way- how in conversation we colloquially compare one event against another.  In recent weeks I’ve bantered with locals over a simple question: which Virginia 100 do you think is harder, Massanutten or Grindstone?  “Blah, blah, blah” I reply, “what about you? Which do you think is harder?”  This is often how the conversation goes.  Opinions fly.  Now that the Virginia 100 season is all but put to bed for another year and being that I’ve been so fortunate to run and finish each Virginia 100 in the same season, this season, I take this opportunity to let my opinion fly, publicly.  For what it is worth.
For starters I would like to point out, as I have in my most recent post, that my goal at each Virginia 100 this summer was something different.  I wanted to win.  Not everyone comes to our Virginia races as overweening as I did.   Trust me, I know this.  My point it, because of this fact, because we all have different abilities and different goals, we all encounter different race experiences.  We succeed in our own unique ways.  We suffer in our own pathetic ways.  Joe Blow may hit xyz climb under darken coolness, while I may trudge up the same climb beneath radiant sunshine.  Or vice versa.  My opinion over which race is harder, Massanutten versus Grindstone, has everything to do with my own experience and only what I came away with after each race during this season.
Prior to last week I thought there was no way Grindstone could be harder than Massanutten, and that I would take Grindstone’s climbs over Massanutten’s rocks any day.  Even as I pen this post, my left big toenail has yet to fully regenerate in the wake of Massanutten’s mid-May persecution.  That was five months ago!  Let me be perfectly clear, though Massanutten’s climbs are not that big, they can be steep and they will f* you up.  The Massanutten course is hard; harder than Grindstone’s course.  Take that to the bank.  There, I said it.  Moreover, in my experience at Massanutten a long stretch between aid stations with no water and during the hottest times of the day can be real challenge.  The nine mile stretch between Indian Grave and Habron Gap, is one example that comes to mind.  Thank goodness I ran that stretch with three bottles is all I can say.
Grindstone’s difficulty juxtaposition to Massanutten’s rocks is more climbing.  Long climbs, too.  Also, Grindstone has a 6:00pm start time.  That is why, despite the course, the Grindstone 100 race itself is harder than the Massanutten Mountain Trail 100.  Wait!  What?  One race- Massanutten- has a harder course but the other- Grindstone- turns out to be a harder race?  Yes.  Here is why: experiences.  I ran both races under 20 hours this summer.  In fact, I ran both races within only one minute of each other.  Massanutten started at 4am which obviously means I finished before midnight in the same day and due to daylight savings time I ran most of my miles during daylight, despite the hard course.  In fact, I likely ran about 25 miles under darkness in total.
Grindstone’s trails are certainly not lacking in technicality but they offer nothing even remotely as difficult compared to Massanutten.   Grindstone mostly raises its difficulty scepter over Massanutten with its 6pm start time.  Given the time of year, darkness falls upon Grindstone runners at about 7pm.  The sun rises the next morning at about 7am.  This means 12 hours of running (for the first night).  For me this meant about 66 to 67 miles worth of night running.  Darkness with big climbs and technical trails, not to mention the absence of sleep prior to starting the race, translates to a very, very tough race.
So, there you have it.  My two cents on which race is more difficult: Massanutten or Grindstone.  For those with different race goals and longer race time finishes you may have a completely different opinion and I wouldn’t argue with you over it.  Massanutten’s finish time cutoff is 36 hours.  Grindstone’s is 38 hours.  This is a crux because a 36 hour allotted cutoff time at Massanutten can be hard for certain runners to finish under; however, no matter what, they will only be subjected to running through one night.  Grindstone on the other hand offers a 38 hour cut off.  This means a higher finish ratio for those [slower] runners wishing to push through the extra time allowed to finish.  This also means runners have no choice but to run through TWO nights, as 38 hours equals an 8am Sunday morning cutoff time.
Whew!  Bored yet?  You would think I have something better to do on a Friday night during a recovery weekend, no?  You're right.  I do.  It is called sleep.  Goodnight.


  1. I haven't run either of these Virginia gems, but I'd think the Grindstone sleep deprivation factor would wreak havoc on most of us.
    Those sharp, relentless rocks of MMT, though ...
    Oooh, but those long climbs at Grindstone ...

  2. Thanks, Neil, I have Grindstone on my radar for next year, sounds awesome to me.

  3. Neal, glad you chimed in on this fun debate. On my blog I threw in my two cents. Long story short, I think MMT is tougher. If you want the short story long, and are bored, real the whole argument on my page. I'd be curious on your thoughts in regards to the toughness of other 100's like WS, Wasatch, and Leadville. Maybe a Vermont vs Old Dominion comparison. Take care!

    -Mike Bailey

  4. I lost massive amounts of foot meat at Massanutten this year and I ran 6 bonus miles (missed the turn towards Little Bald) at Grindstone. I was still even with the additional miles able to finish Grindstone almost 4 hours faster than Massanutten. I agree Massanutten is harder. Dude you crushed Grindstone! Amazing

  5. Oh yeah you also freaking Crushed Massanutten!

  6. Hey Neal, just saw your post and I have thought about this too. I did MMT in 2009 and 2010 and Grindstone in 2008, 2009, and 2010. I don't think I will ever come to a conclusion to which I think is tougher. You make good points, but every time I finish one of them, it just seems so darn tough that the 100 in the closest proximitry tends to be the tougher one in my mind. If you enjoyed Grindstone, you really ought to check out Hellgate. It is a 100k that runs like a 100.

  7. Chris,
    I'm with you on that, though I am sticking with my picks: MMT tougher course, Grindstone [all things considered] tougher event. Hellgate is on the list. Seems to be a favorite of everyone who has run it.