We all want to know: What makes the best-of-the-best Spartan athletes out there tick? How do they keep their edge? In our Train Like A Champion series, we dig into the details of the training, nutrition, mindset, and more that keeps our most epic athletes on top.
Heather Gollnick (@athlete_heather_gollnick) had a legendary athletic career, but it's only a fraction of what makes her a champion. She’s also a business owner, mentor, coach, mother of three, and leader by nature.
Over the course of her decade-long run as a professional triathlete, she’s won five Ironman titles, over 200 multisport events, and took the 2016 Spartan Masters World Championship. Her secret to success: a strong mind-body connection.
“If your mind believes you can do something, your body can follow,” she says. “There were always faster swimmers, bikers and runners but I could win an Ironman because my ‘mental game’ was so strong,” she adds.
Check Out What a FULL Week of Heather Gollnick's Workouts Looks Like
While still a competitor, Gollnick spends a lot more of her time guiding and grooming the next generation of champions as the Head Men’s and Women’s Triathlon Coach at Liberty University. And if that’s not enough, she reaches a myriad of athletes from across the country through her coaching business, Iron Edge Coaching based out of Lynchburg, Virginia. With a workload that heavy, Gollnick could be considered a master of the work, life, and train balance.
Here, Gollnick shares her no-nonsense approach to training and nutrition, plus a recovery protocol for longevity.
A Q&A With Spartan Heather Gollnick
SPARTAN: How did you get into OCR?
HEATHER GOLLNICK: I’ve been an athlete all my life, I was a college gymnast, then a professional triathlete for 10 years. After my triathlon career, I was missing sports and their competitive nature. The first time I tried OCR I was completely hooked. The community of people is great, and super friendly from those doing their first race to my friends in the elite wave. Everyone is cheering for each other, and even though we compete against each other we stay with one another at races. The OCR community as a whole is so different than any I have experienced as an athlete. I went from coaching triathlon through my company IronEdge, to now coaching both triathletes and OCR athletes, so you could say I’m “fully invested” in a myriad of ways in OCR now.
SR: How would you describe your training?
HG: Unfortunately I have had an injury for the last six weeks so the training I’m showing is more what I typically do, not exactly what I have been doing of late. I was doing a fire jump during a race and came down completely sideways and got an aversion fracture in my ankle. I was on a scooter for a few weeks, then in a boot for a few weeks but fortunately working at a University I have access to great athletic training facilities so I’ve been able to recover really quick using tools such as the anti-gravity treadmill and underwater treadmill.
But what a typical week looks like: I tend to cross-train more than others, part of that being my triathlon background and partially for “sport longevity” being 50 next year.
SR: With all your experience what have you learned most about your body?
HG: You definitely have to take care of your body from eating well to various recovery methodologies but I’ve also learned that my body is strong and can do a lot of things. There is certainly a strong mind-body correlation. If your mind believes you can do something, your body can follow.
SR: What is your approach to nutrition?
HG: I have just recently started using ATAQ, a plant-based sports nutrition company. Eating healthy has always been important to me and has played a huge roll in my past athletic success. I really love their plant-based protein as well as their raw energy bars because they are healthy and taste great. I do believe in raw foods and I’m big on fruits and veggies but also believe everything in “moderation”. I LOVE dark chocolate.
SR: What does your recovery protocol look like?
HG: So for me as an older athlete I really try to listen to my body. I didn't always when I was younger. I know recovery is super important for athletes of all ages from stretching to foam rolling to ice baths after a hard workout to using awesome products like Venga CBD. CBD has gotten really popular in the last year or two and I find that it really does help my inflammation and recovery in general. I use the Venga CBD Gels and the Balm. The balm is topical and the gels are like a vitamin and help absorb the healing qualities internally.
I also find that taking rest days when I need them is important. Recovery for me also includes cross-training, so you will see in my training I incorporate swimming and biking which are both non-impact. Incorporating this has allowed me to be an athlete for a long time. I also enjoy incorporating weight training, making sure your muscles are all firing and balanced is key.
On Mental Strength
SR: How do you strengthen your mind to prepare for races?
HG: I actually wrote a book on the mental and emotional side of racing triathlon called triathleteEQ. As a past professional triathlete, I found one of my greatest strengths to be the “mental side” of sport and competition. There were always faster swimmers, bikers and runners but I could win an Ironman because my “mental game” was so strong. I have taken that mentality into the elite wave of OCR Racing. I think the mental side is huge, especially staying mentally strong after a failed obstacle and 30 burpees along with the inner belief that anything can happen after that.
SR: How do you push through tough days?
HG: I am very fortunate that I work at Liberty University. I’m the Head Men’s and Women’s Triathlon Coach and work in athletics. Fortunately, I am surrounded by positive, uplifting people on a daily basis. Liberty University is the largest Christian College in the World and being somewhere where faith is evident and present in everyday life helps in those tough times for sure. I also have an amazing husband and three great children (all who attend Liberty University) where we work.
*This interview with Heather Gollnick was lightly edited for clarity.