Overcoming obstacles only part of the race for local endurance athlete
Steamboat Springs — Local endurance athlete Heather Gollnick likes a good challenge
Saturday, she will have to overcome 30 to 35 of them during a 15-mile “Beast” race at the Reebok Spartan World Championships. The five-time Ironman Champion, who added the title of obstacle course racer to her resume in January, will compete in the event, which draws 10,000 athletes to one of the country’s fastest-growing sports.
The Elite Masters division she is racing in includes nearly 2,000 athletes competing for titles.
But Gollnick isn’t in it only for the titles; rather, merely the chance to compete at this level in the Spartan World Championships is the main reason she packed up the car and made the 13-hour drive to Lake Tahoe. She hopes to top the other women in her division in the “Beast” race, which will be aired on NBC later this year.
The race is the latest test for Gollnick, who moved to Steamboat Springs with her husband, Todd, and three children in 2013, and now runs the IronEdge coaching and triathlon team. Gollnick has won 12 of the 13 obstacle course races this year in her age division and nine of the 13 categories for women in the Elite Masters division.
Still, she knows there will be a lot of competition at the World Championships, and winning will not come easily. The field includes a woman who beat her at a race in Breckenridge and another who topped her at a race in Pennsylvania.
“This is the Super Bowl of obstacle course racing,” she said Tuesday before leaving Steamboat. “Spartan is to obstacle course racing what Ironman is to triathlons.”
This weekend’s Spartan event is expected to draw some of the top athletes in the world to the slopes of the Squaw Valley Ski Area, but the event also offers a number of races for athletes of all fitness levels. Gollnick said only the featured events will include cash prizes and be aired on NBC in December.
Athletes can select from the Sprint Race, which entails a course of about four miles and approximately 20 obstacles; the Super Race, an eight-mile course traversing up to 25 obstacles; and the Beast, a race in which athletes face a course up to 15 miles in length with 30 obstacles.
Gollnick said she has competed at every level since January, and she usually chooses races based on whether the course offers prize money. Event organizers often switch the prize money between different events.
“The course is a surprise,” Gollnick said. “Some of the obstacles are the same as those athletes see in other races, but there are always a few surprises that the athletes have never seen.”
For years, Gollnick has been a fixture in top Ironman races across the country, but more recently, she discovered the sport of obstacle course racing. She still competes in triathlons but said obstacle course racing has become a passion.
It’s one of the reasons she carries a plastic bucket in the back of her car, and it’s not unusual to see her carrying sandbags up and down the concrete bleachers of the rodeo ground at Howelsen Hill.
“Training for Spartan events has been a nice change of pace,” Gollnick said. “I think my involvement with Spartan races has made me a better triathlete.”
This weekend, Gollnick hopes to show the country and the world she is one of the best obstacle course racers, as well. Her race is scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, but she also plans to compete in the longer Ultra Spartan race Sunday.
“I’m a very competitive person, and I’ve always been,” she said.
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