Finding Ultra by Rich Roll

May 15, 2014

Today’s Friday Rest Day book review is of:

Finding Ultra – Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself (2013), by Rich Roll. 288 pages.


Finding Ultra is the story of Rich Roll’s life, with an emphasis on how he overcame being an “average” middle age guy to take on Ultraman.

The first part of the book talks about his background and overcoming being average to become one of the fittest men alive. He grew up in a pretty well-to-do family, and he was a world-class swimmer from a family of great swimmers. He went to ivy-league schools – undergrad and law school – and had a very impressive job as a lawyer in LA. He also developed a serious alcohol use problem during this time, and he spends time talking about overcoming that and finding Ironman Triathlons as a means to overcome his addiction.

Well, I don’t know that I would consider Rich an “average” guy at all given that background. And that was hard for me, since the book is really pitched as the story of how he overcome being “average.” It was also clear he swapped one addiction – alcohol – for another – Ironman/Ultraman. Lastly, I’m just not sure I like the guy, and I don’t know that I have a real strong reason for saying that other than I just don’t. If you read reviews of him online, you’ll see lots of people talk about he is a narcissist and they couldn’t stand him. It always irritates me when people read a book specifically about a person and their life, and then turn around and call them self-absorbed – I mean, it’s a book about them! But, I kinda understood what these people were saying. He just doesn’t come across as all that humble – worse thanMacca – and if he had it would have been a better book.

The middle part of the book was more interesting, for sure. This is where he talks about the races he has completed. The most impressive was the EPIC5 race, which consists of 5 days of Ironman triathlons, each one on a different Hawaiian Island. This was definitely impressive! I also really appreciated how he talked about the mental difficulty of doing such an event. That part was well done and made me appreciate his suffering. The only disappointing part here was that he was pretty secretive about what he did to train, other than long, slow sessions with his heart rate monitor. Unlike other books, he doesn’t even include a sample workout week, and that would have been really interesting to see.

The last part of the book was, sadly, the most disappointing as he spend this part talking about nutrition and selling his products. I wanted this to be the best part because he is a vegan, but once again I found someone eats all kinds of stuff I haven’t had any interest in eating. Smoothies with all kinds of seeds and stuff in them…why are vegan athletes always so obsessed with smoothies?!? And I can’t, and won’t, pay ridiculous amounts of money for whatever fancy powders he and Brendan Brazier and others are selling. I think the issue is that I was spoiled by Scott Jurek’s great writing about food in Eat and Run. Ok, all that negative said stuff, it was of course inspiring to hear from a vegan athlete. And it was interesting to hear him talk about what he ate during those crazy events that I talked about above, especially the approximately 3 billion avocado sandwiches and sweet potatoes he ate.

I really wanted to like this book, but it was just ok. I’m ambivalent about recommending it.


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