Book: Finding Ultra

by Rich Roll

On the eve of his 40th birthday, Rich Roll was climbing a flight of stairs in his home and had to stop halfway to catch his breath. It was a pivotal moment in his life. While in college, Rich was an athletic swimmer who reached national status in the butterfly stroke and now, here he was getting winded after climbing eight stairs. The next day he began the process of changing his life. However, he didn’t just start working out and losing a few pounds like most people. He made fitness his lifestyle and became a vegan!

Being a former swimmer, he soon tried a half-Iron distance triathlon but couldn’t finish. He then tried a marathon but had to walk the last 8 miles. What does he do next? He enters the three day/320 mile Ultraman triathlon! Then, with the help of a coach, he didn’t just finish. He placed 11th out of 38 and 1st among the non-pros. The next year he and his friend Jason Lester embarked on a new challenge they called the “Epic 5” which is five Ironman-distance tris in five days on five different Hawaiian Islands. It ended up taking them seven days but they completed all five. Three years after Rich Roll began his metamorphosis, he was named “One Of The 25 Fittest Men In The World” by Men’s Fitness magazine. Pretty amazing story and I find myself thinking of this book a lot while I am running.

Rich Roll also tells all about his childhood, swimming in high school and college, going through treatment for alcoholism, how his first marriage ended on the honeymoon. Then after all of that, he meets his current wife – Julie Piatt – who became an key figure in his big change.

The book ends with Rich going into a lot of detail about his vegan diet. He is basically a walking encyclopedia on the subject and does a good job of explaining how different types of food affect you. He tells why certain foods cause you to feel really full only to be hungry again an hour later. What is really going on when you experience a “food coma” after dinner. Which types of food give you the most energy. This was probably my favorite part of the book.

While this “Finding Ultra” is really inspirational, one thing that kind of bothered me about it was the brooding subject of MONEY. Although it wasn’t mentioned in the book, the reality is that this story would never have happened if not for the fact that Rich Roll was a really wealthy, self-employed Hollywood lawyer who could set his own hours and work out of his car.

I am by no means saying that being wealthy is a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s even more impressive that he maintained a successful career while training 15 to 20 hours a week. What bothers me is that it reinforces something that I wish I could deny – triathlon racing is a rich person’s sport. It all makes sense now. Why do so many people in their 40’s and 50’s get into triathlons? Like Rich Roll, they are the only one’s who can afford it. For example: remember the Ultraman race that Rich did? It costs $1600 to register. If you can afford to be at the starting line, you will also need a good racing bike, a wetsuit and (if you don’t have your own 25 yard pool) a fitness club membership. Some people (like Rich Roll) also hire a coach for training and race strategy. The first step in becoming a triathlete is to have a successful career.

That isn’t the only place the unmentioned subject of money enters the book. Rich Roll annoyingly tries to mention the name “Vitamix” a LOT. It was all too obvious that he is sponsored by them. He also tries too hard to sell products from his own company named “PlantPower”. Some paragraphs sounded like scripts for an infomercial. By the way, a Vitamix is about $500 and a canister of “PlantPower” will set you back about $85. Welcome to the world of healthy eating.

If you can get past the money aspect and the subtle sales pitches, this book really can provide a middle-age triathlete with some great training motivation and information about diet and nutrition.