It seems like no time at all since I wrote the words “As we waded through chest deep freezing water, winter reminded us that it was on its way with a square kick between the legs. BOOM!” It was following a race in November and I knew what was in store over the next few months. Although I was excited for the winter ahead, I knew that things were about to get a little more serious. Races would be harder, clothing choices would be vital and finishing a race was no longer a given.
Although I don’t think we are completely out of winter's icy grasp, this weekend we had our first real taste of a summery obstacle race. In contrast to last year’s event, conditions at RockSolidRace in Exeter couldn’t have been any more perfect. The sun beamed down on Escot Park all day and, although the course had more than its fair share of water, each dip was more refreshing than crippling. Happy days!
My day started with watching the battle of the front runners in the first heat. Being a high scoring Mudstacle League event, most of the UK’s big guns were going head to head, but I won’t spoil the result, you’ll have to watch the video below to check out the action...
After the excitement of all that died down, I joined one of the later heats to check out the course myself and was lucky enough to be joined by a selection of the inov-8 OCR team. Before I ramble on too much about my thoughts of the course, check out the bumper video coverage below. The first half covers the front-pack battle and the second half (from 7:20 onwards) is a head-cam run through of the course. Enjoy!
As you can tell from the headcam footage, RockSolidRace in Exeter has everything. I’ve just spent the last 10 minutes staring into space desperately trying to think of something that the course lacked but, to be honest, this was a Grade A experience. Sometimes you’ll go to a race with a great array of well-constructed obstacles but it will lack exciting natural terrain and vice-versa. RockSolidRace in Exeter had a huge range of obstacle, from small build to big build, some of the most ridiculous mud I’ve ever experienced (and that’s saying something) and plenty of killer hills.
Although I’m a stronger runner than I am an obstacle negotiator, I love an event that crams in the challenges. At RockSolid you have a choice of running 5km or 10km (that are actually more like 7km and 12km) but with such quick-fire challenges, I would say that this was harder work than some of the big-name 20km races.
The bigger, more exciting obstacles included a series of floating platforms over water, a plywood A-frame with a rope climb out of water, numerous walls of various sizes, a huge vertical cargo net climb, a tarpaulin water slide and a big dive bomb into water.
The most challenging obstacle of all was a 12 foot sloped plywood A-frame. It would have been totally doable until it got wet and, being placed right after a river wade, probably only the first 50 people stood any chance of making it up the slope unaided. Of course part of the problem was that we were all wearing trail shoes, which are built for mud, not flat surfaces. Anybody crazy enough to be wearing road running shoes might have had a good shot.
After failing many times to run up and grab the hands from those at the top, we attempted to make a human ladder, which soon became a human heap, but we eventually summited it by dangling Ross down from the top by his feet.
There were many obstacle racing classics dotted around the course, including crawls under netting, dunking under ice water, jumping over barrels and squeezing under a very low section of barbed wire. It was the natural obstacles that really spiced this course up though.
Just jumping over and climbing through ditches really does whittle down your energy and, as I mentioned before, I've rarely faced the kind of mud that we saw this weekend. I'm sure it would have claimed a lot of trainers because it was incredibly gloopy and sticky. At times I felt nearly powerless to move, fixed to my waist in porridge mud. Many organisers will churn up their mud pits with water and digging equipment but the type of naturally occurring mud that runs through Escot Park is impossible to replicate. Absolutely sensational!
As you’d expect from a sunny obstacle race, the atmosphere was excellent. The event village was pumping throughout the day, with a great festival vibe and that transferred through to the course. As I wandered around afterwards with my camera there were smiling faces everywhere. Of course a lot of people were finding the last few kilometres hard, but it was all tackled with high spirits and team work.
Over 3,500 people ran the course in one day, which is very impressive for an event that’s little over a year old, and the feedback so far seems to be extremely positive, with a only a couple of exceptions. The only gripes I've heard are to do with the congestion in the bigger obstacle areas in the later waves and some ropey burgers. The former is probable down to a couple of the obstacles being too hard to handle the volume of racers. With such amazing weather I don’t think that was much of a problem but in colder conditions people might have got upset about waiting around more than they did. It seems that once events grow beyond a thousand attendees it becomes harder to please everyone, partly because the nature of the experience changes slightly (having more people has its upsides as well as down) and partly because you're ten times more likely to make 300 people happy than you are 3,000! (real life statistics there folks).
So, I doff my cap to you RockSolidRace, I had a fabulous day. From the elite right through to the first time runners, it seems like you have hit the mark. Bring on the next one!
Find out more about RockSolidRace's events in Milton Keynes and Exeter here: www.rocksolidrace.com