The Rock Solid Mud Run, though smaller than some of the better known obstacle course races, is one of the toughest and a must run for any OCR enthusiast, expert or novice. It was founded by Christopher Roe, a U.S. Marine with over 25 years of service, who designed the event to provide a military style training experience. Upwards to thirty obstacles are scattered throughout the approximately five-mile course with a frequency that insures you will never be bored and will constantly be challenged. When I attempted Rock Solid in 2013, it was only the second OCR I had entered and the longest, but I’d spent a lot of time in the gym and felt fairly confident. Then the course kicked my derriere. This year, on Saturday, August 22nd it was time for redemption!
The event was held at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ, a venue that hosts a large number of OCRs. Anyone who has attended one knows all about the viscous and pungent mud that makes up a good portion of the course especially if it rains. But this day was absolutely perfect racing weather with warm sun, moderate temps and a light breeze.
Off the start, racers run up and over a steep, undulating metal bridge then high step through a series of tires leading up to one of Rock Solid’s signature obstacles – the lake swim. This race has the most swimming of any OCR I have ever run. Don’t use that as an excuse to skip it if you’re a non-swimmer though, as there are trails for you to bypass the lake. The first swim begins with a walk across a floating plank before leaping into the water. The width of the lake is about 35 yards across according to my Garmin and it’s a pretty easy swim but the floating plant life in your face can be a bit annoying. After crossing for the first time, you encounter what has to be the most pleasant barbed wire crawl I’ve ever done. The wires are low and loose and will snag you easily, but they’re strung across soft, white sand instead of the usual mud and gravel.
You’ll cross the lake three more times, ducking under three rows of barrels on the last leg, before climbing up a muddy embankment utilizing a rope. Now the real challenges begin. Rock Solid focuses a lot on upper body strength and there are a large number of climbing obstacles. One of the hardest is traversing side to side across a vertical cargo net. It has a lot of sag to it and your arms are really burning by the end. A good portion of the course traverses through the wooded section of the park with plenty of shade along with the tenacious, sticky mud and waist-deep bogs. Several obstacles, such as a triple high log climb, cargo net climb and monkey bars are set up along the wooded trail.
Back out in the open, you encounter one of the more challenging sections of the course. It’s a series of obstacles designed to test your endurance as well as strength. You begin on a pole traverse requiring you to hang upside down from the bars pulling yourself hand over hand to the end. Next you’ll test your balancing skills navigating a series of elevated logs connected at right angles. The following phase allows you to choose between climbing over a double bar, about 7-8 feet up, or testing yourself on the single bar at maximum height. There are then a series of five elevated logs to climb over beginning at about 3 1/2 feet but getting higher as you go. Another balancing act follows running up and over logs set in a V-formation. Next are the walls. It should be noted that the walls at Rock Solid are straight up with no foot holds and several of them are inverted, leaning towards you. Heights would be estimated at 6-8 feet. Following the walls is a rope traverse up a dirt hill, and then the three-stage challenge. It begins with a rope climb up an inclined wall, then a horizontal cargo net bridge followed by a rail climb of considerable height, then back down the other side with wider spacing between the steps. Definitely a lot of fun.
Another signature obstacle of Rock Solid is a two-cable traverse over a second lake in the woods. You’re required to stand on one cable while gripping the other in your hands as you try to make your way across. There is a lot of play in the cables, and it requires a tight core to keep from swaying so much you lose your grip and go for a swim.
The course ends with another inverted wall and the finish line without much fanfare. You do earn a unique medal, an event t-shirt, and a free 16-oz beer for adults. The festival area is small without activities, but it does have music, vendors and a good selection of hot sandwiches for purchase, as well as ice cold beer and drinks. The shower area was one of the best I’ve encountered, with actual shower heads mounted on a fence under some shady trees. The changing areas were dry, comfortable trailers, which were a welcomed change from the usual muddy or dusty tents.
Rock Solid overall is a small but well-run event that offers serious challenges for seasoned OCR runners but is also fun for the novice participants. There are no penalties for skipped or missed obstacles so beginners can challenge themselves to the best of their ability without facing any extra duress. Everyone is provided with a free timing chip allowing you to compete against the field or just gauge your personal progress. There were adequate water stations on the course, but no food until the finish. Spectators and parking are free as are the event photos taken by professional photographers. If you haven’t done Rock Solid yet, you are missing out and should put this high on your 2016 race agenda.