Sunday, June 23, 2013

Finding Ultra

Finding Ultra by Rich Roll.
Rejecting middle age, becoming one of the World's fittest men and discovering myself.

OK, now that the blog is back, I'm catching up on the books I have read. I got this one a while ago and didn't get to it until recently. Crown Publishing Group sent it to me for free. No money exchanged hands and I never agreed to write a favorable post but I did enjoy the book.

Rich Roll is an entertainment lawyer, father of 4 and an ultra-endurance athlete. He was a top finisher at the 2008 and 2009 Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii. It's an invitation only race. Day 1 is a 6.2 mile ocean swim followed by a 90 mile cross-country cycle race. Day 2 is a 170 mile cycling race. Day 3 ends with an easy 52 mile double marathon. If that's not enough for you, he and a friend completed something they nicknamed the Epic 5 Challenge. It was 5 ironman-distance triathlons (2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26 mile run) on 5 islands of Hawaii in under a week.

The book ends with the Rich Roll I just introduced but doesn't start that way. Rich is a kid who comes from a loving home but was completely uncomfortable in his introverted, nerdy skin. In fact, he was bullied and tormented by other kids. He found a window of peace when he discovered that he was a talented swimmer. This talent got him into a top university and he just managed to graduate and become a lawyer before his ghosts caught-up with him and he plummeted into terrible addiction. He hit bottom (eventually), got clean, started a new life with a new partner and one day began to drastically change. He became a vegan and transformed his overweight and out of conditioned 40 year old self into a triathlete.

This book is not a piece of prose. In fact, the writing sometimes stumbles over itself. But it's not the writing skill that made this an interesting read for me. It was the humility and honesty. I read Eat and Run and that was honest but private. Finding Ultra gives you a much deeper and real taste of Rich's pain, fears, shame, etc. He doesn't lay it on too thick but when he talks excitedly about his climb back and his eventual transformation (like only a recovering addict can), you know where that "born again" feeling comes from and you are more inclined to celebrate it with him than criticize him for it. He credits his wife with a lot but it's very clear from reading the book that she is a pretty amazing woman who is incredibly supportive and unselfish. His knowledge of vegan whole foods stems from her and I found that side of the book interesting too. Eating whole foods is one thing. Eating to sustain a body for insane endurance is another. Personally speaking, it was so nice to read a book about the physical transformation of a man in his 40's not 20's or 30's. But, I have to admit, there were times when I was like "Rich... dude... you swam with Olympic hopefuls. You were an athlete before you became a slob! You didn't go from 0 to 10. You went from 6 to 0 to 10." I'm not trying to take anything away from his achievements, it's just that most people who do start from 0 can't have the same aspirations. And that's OK. The book is inspiring enough – even before Rich competes in his first race. Having said that, it was fun to read the details of his events. At that point, you really want him to succeed. And like the rest of the book, when he documents the details of something like the Epic 5, it's well rounded - not just romanticized. I love that he can one minute talk about something spiritual or some inner strength that fuels endurance but then admit to being horrible to one of the support team and feeling terribly remorseful. He seems like a well rounded man.

A before and after of Rich
My conclusion. If you are interested in endurance sports at all, I'd definitely recommend reading this book. Like Eat and Run (a book I just posted about), you don't have to be a vegetarian or vegan to be inspired by it. It kept me interested and when I was done, I couldn't help but feel thankful to Rich for sharing so openly and respect him for his accomplishments. And when I say accomplishments, I tend to feel more strongly about him finding himself and family than finding ultra. Sadly, not everyone gets a result like this but man... it feels good to hear that some do. Good luck to you Rich!


  1. Great review Simon! I read the book and your account of it is spot on. If you haven't read The Long Run by Mishka Shubaly it's similar. Rich has a Podcast and had Mishka on it and the two talked about their experiences (which have similarities) for over two hours. I found it fascinating. It's a Kindle Single and is only $1.99. You can probably read it in an hour.

    Here's the link to the podcast:

  2. Thanks Tony. I heard about the podcasts after I posted this. It does sound interesting. I love books but there's nothing better than hearing someone's voice to get a feel for their personality. I haven't read The Long Run but I should. I still aspire to run an "ultra" distance trail run at some point in my life.


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