Short stories from long runs

This blog about my run and training

I wish I remembered where I originally heard about this book: Finding Ultra by Rich Roll. Regardless, I’m glad I did. It was a quick read and a fascinating look at an uber athlete’s evolution and transformation from passionate swimmer to alcohol-addicted college kid to lost and later sober professional, middle-aged dad to, suddenly, vegan Ultraman (is that a proper noun?) and candidate for fittest man in the world. Wait, what?! Whiplash on that last one. I know.

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Rich Roll was and is all those things and shares his story in this memoir. It’s not quite a memoir, though. It shares glimpses of his life story and thoughts and reflections, but is also an instruction manual for digging deep and changing your life. It highlights an ultra-healthy lifestyle and reassures you that your not wrong for not embracing it at the same time. I finished the book and thought, Hm, I could do some of that, and that felt like enough.

What I most admire about the author and his transformation is the fluidity with which he attacks the changes to his diet and lifestyle, which if not completely balanced, were at least honest and human. He loves the cleanse that kicks off his new habits so he considers, I feel great! Why go back to food?! His already healthy wife looks at him with what I’m sure included an eye roll to suggest that’s preposterous. Post-cleanse he decides to go vegetarian, but when he realizes there are a lot of unhealthy foods that qualify as vegetarian, he adapts. Roll illustrates very few baby steps, but preaches a sort of forgiveness or moderation. Just get started, he says. See where it takes you.

So where Roll is for sure an all or nothing guy by nature, I liked the fact that he advocates to just jump in. Don’t over-plan or over-schedule or think you need to be vegan or mowing down on Big Macs.

In the book, when he can’t get into an Ironman on the timeline he’d like, instead of signing up for a half Iron, or a marathon, or actually completing a triathlon of any distance, he talks his way into an Ultraman — a three day 320 mile race on the Big Island of Hawaii. Later, he takes on the EPIC5, a challenge a buddy hatches, to complete five ironman distance races on each of Hawaii’s islands, in less than a week. Oh, the friend is also an endurance athlete who has no use of one arm due to a childhood accident. Let that sink in.

To be sure, his quest and his accomplishments are astounding. I have to be honest, though. There are pieces of Roll’s story that made me viscerally uncomfortable, and not because he was performing super-human feats on open water, the back of the bike, and firmly planted in two shoes. Roll evidently has — from where I stand at least, which is hardly professional or scientific — an obvious case of addictive personality. The way he bounces from athletic endeavor to enthusiastic imbiber to couch potato to cleanser-vegetarian-PlantPowered athlete impresses me, of course, but also leaves with this kind of deep sense of worry for a moment that something throws off the precarious balance.

I’ve seen recovering alcoholics who chain smoke and consume unbelievable amounts of coffee from minute to minute. I get that there’s some degree of transfer, but in Roll’s case, it’s really really intense. Last week, learning about The Balanced Blonde (formerly The Blonde Vegan), I read about orthorexia for this first time. Could this be that? No doubt about it this dude is incredible, but I’d be leaving out a big takeaway from this gripping and quick read if I didn’t acknowledge that it also made me say, oh my gosh, really? Is that okay?!

I recommend this book, especially to athletes or people interested in what makes an athlete tick. To some degree, I recommend this book to addicts or to people looking to kick their demons. Roll is honest and up front about what it took to get serious and move past his dependence on alcohol. It’s a piece of the story. Finally, there are moments that are a little market-y that took me out of the story, but it didn’t bug me much, and not nearly enough to negate my recommendation.

Pick up a copy or borrow mine, and then let me know what you think! And if you’re interested in a sneak peek and interview with Rich, check this one out from CNN.