Rock Solid Race Review – Englishtown, NJ

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.

Rock Solid Start RampOff 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.Rock Solid Lake Swim

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. Rock Solid Cargo NetA 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.Rock Solid Monkey Bars

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.Rock Solid Three-Part Obstacle

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.Rock Solid Two-Cable Traverse

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.

A major goal of Rock Solid’s organizers is to raise money and awareness for the non-profit organizations of the IES Brain Research Foundation and the Semper Fi Fund.

Spartan Sprint – Palmerton, PA 2015

How do you make a Spartan Race Sprint feel more like a Beast? Park it on the side of a mountain with a vertical of over 1000 feet and throw in torrential thunderstorms right before the start. Anyone thinking they’d have an easy time completing their Spartan Sprint at Blue Mountain in Palmerton, PA was in for a real surprise. The course begins with a steep climb up a grassy hill just to get your hamstrings burning. A couple of log hurdles follow and then the real fun begins. The next 1.5 miles are straight uphill on a narrow trail of loose rocks and slippery mud. Every time you think it is about to end, you turn a corner and up you go again! The vertical cargo net was set up at one of the few relatively flat spots along the way, but it wasn’t much of a break. The last part of the climb actually had ropes in the ground to help you pull your way to the peak.

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Upon finally reaching the summit, you were faced with a number of key Spartan Race obstacles. The taller, A-frame cargo net came first followed by the Hercules hoist and then the sandbag carry. While the bags should have been 50 and 25 pounds for the men and women respectively, they were soaking wet and had to have weighed a bit more. The course for the carry went down and up two of Blue Mountain’s steeper, double black diamond trails making this a real beast of an obstacle. With your arms nicely warmed up, it was time for the spear throw. In the time I was there, I saw no one actually nail it and a whole lot of burpees going on.

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Completion of this set of obstacles put you past the two mile mark and it was time to run through the woods again. One of the best features of the races at Blue Mountain is the absolute beauty of the scenery. If you can shift your focus from your pain and suffering and take a look around, it has some of the most stunning views of any OCR course and the runs through the trees are shaded and fun as long as you can keep your footing.

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Somewhere along the trek in the woods, the over, under and through walls were set up in a clearing which provided for an enjoyable exercise though not much of a challenge. Continuing the descent, you eventually encountered the mud pits which had you climbing up slippery hills and down into some of the most putrid water I have ever had to traverse! Many people were literally gagging from the stench. Luckily, after a relatively short run, you were treated to a pleasant swim in a clear lake. There were six lines of inner tubes to duck under but that was a totally refreshing diversion. Unfortunately, now that your feet were wet, the traverse wall was next. The lower blocks were entirely encased in slippery mud allowing for very little grip. Add that to the new angles in the walls and this obstacle defeated nearly everyone that was there at the same time I was. Time for more burpees!

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Upon finishing the descent to the festival area it was time for the bucket carry, one of the most difficult obstacles of this course. The descent was steep and brought you past a spectator area, where your friends and family could watch your misery as you turned the corner and climbed back up. The volunteers at this obstacle, while friendly and encouraging were adamant that everyone complete the challenge with a full quota of rocks, and they were checking! I managed to make it through with hardly a stop, which resulted in seriously shaky arms, just in time for the rings and subsequently more burpees.

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At this point many participants probably wanted it to be over, but the hardest challenge was yet to come. I have completed quite a number of OCR’s of varying degrees of difficulty including the monster Beast in Vermont, but this was by far the hardest barbed wire crawl I’ve ever encountered. It began with a long roll down a hill under wire strung so low it was essential to hug the ground. At the bottom was a mud pit followed by a rope climb up an angled wall which gave you a bit of a break but then the crawl continued. The terrain for the upward portion consisted of almost entirely sharp rocks. It was extremely painful to roll or crawl through without any way to ease the pain. Thankfully, upon completion of that nightmare, the fire jump and the finish were now in sight.

In summary, the Spartan Race Sprint at Blue Mountain was easily one of the most challenging with the upside being the beautiful natural setting. The festival area had all the typical Spartan attractions of rope climbs and other challenges as well as merchandise booths, food and beer. The only major detraction was the changing tents. This was the second weekend of Spartan racing at this location and the ground in the tents had become extremely slippery with mud making it nearly impossible to use. I only saw a few brave (shy?) people utilizing the tents with many of us opting to change behind a towel in the open. Modesty is not a Spartan trait.

If you completed any of the events at Blue Mountain over the last two weekends, Aroo to you! You know you were tested. If you plan on doing one next year, be prepared to be challenged. This sprint was no walk in the park.


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*Photos By: Matthew G. Reilly.