Blue Runnings

Race Reviews, GPX files and more from North-East England

The Reading Nook: Finding Ultra

on 6 October 2020

Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself – Rich Roll


In a nutshell:

Rich Roll has had something of a rollercoaster of a life. High school misfit becomes dedicated competition swimmer, goes to college, learns to fit in and gain popularity with alcohol as a coping mechanism and ends up an alcoholic through college and into work as a lawyer. Failed marriage leads to rehab, where he finally feels ready to tackle his addiction and comes clean. Meets lovely lady, starts family, builds home, launches own law firm, life is dandy and comfortable. Too comfortable. Unfit and overweight – mid-life crisis moment hits knowing early cardiac death is on the cards. Cleans up eating, dons trainers and mounts bicycle, starts swimming again. Ironman ambitions; finds coach – trains for Ultraman and finishes with massively unexpected times. Finds eating plan and exercise lifestyle that works for him. The world of ultra-distance triathlons follows…

The structure of the book itself is written in an autobiographical sense for the first half, and then has appendices addressing what I guess are a regular barrage of frequent questions mostly relating to how the ‘PlantPowered’ athlete has used his diet to get to where he is now.

From my brain:

There is very clearly a huge amount of dedication involved in RR’s journey to his current self. Unsurprisingly many pro athletes have a real drive for improved performance and a strong commitment over huge periods of time to rigid and I suspect not always enjoyable training programs. I often find myself incredibly jealous of their passion. Many are able to fit training for top-level sport alongside a full time job and a family life in a way the rest of us cannot imagine juggling. Clearly, it’s possible with enough commitment, and possibly an occasional blind eye to a full night’s sleep and the chocolate in the fridge but I confess I personally lack the drive and the willpower! Might be a contributing factor in my not being a competition level runner…

It’s clear from reading the book that in the author’s eyes, changing his eating has changed his life and this is the aspect he’s most keen to share with his readers. I would have liked to see more information on his training approach, but apart from a very clear regard for the importance of having a dedicated coach in pushing your body’s limits without injury it seems to be such a ‘normal’ part of RR’s fitness approach harking back to his swimming days it doesn’t seem to be pushed as much as I would expect as a recommendation for others wanting to follow in his footsteps.

Rich portrays a clear passion in his writing for giving to others. He recognises his journey may not suit everyone but strongly believes there are aspects which can be adopted by everybody for self-improvement, without the need to enter the world of ultra-endurance sport.

  • Meditation and journalling
  • Self-analysis of the reasons behind unhealthy choices, and making a conscious decision to tackle these head-on
  • Making lifestyle choices (home, family, work) which work towards a vision or goal that makes your heart sing at the prospect
  • Regular exercise at whatever level is appropriate for you
  • Clean eating – vegan as far as possible

Much of the second half of the book is in the form of appendices giving further detail on how RR eats himself, the reasons for the wide variety of foods and supplements he takes, how to follow this eating plan and a selection of recipes to start with. He’s generated a huge list of resources to help people interested in becoming ‘Plant-Powered’ and comes across as very open and keen to help people grow the same way he has.

There are few direct references if any listed for many of the health claims relating to RR’s eating approach (there are references to books but not journals etc.), and I confess I found a few tips to be highly contradictory – for example, one tip for ‘alkalizing’ your system is to drink lemon juice or apple cider vinegar in your water. I do not understand how drinking something clearly acidic (2-3 on the pH scale for both) helps you keep your body in a more alkaline condition (>7 pH). This is disregarding the accuracy regarding the involvement of your food in any part of your body’s pH maintenance – you will get a very different pH reading in your stomach to your blood or your urine. I admit I may be missing something.

I feel some of the nuggets of information portrayed as fact have been selected for because they back up what the user wants to believe is true. They reinforce and validate how he’s eating when with the lack of scientific references and some things flying in the face of other properly referenced articles I have read, I would respect him more for saying simply ‘this works for me – I feel good eating this way’.

I occasionally felt a little like I was living in Holland & Barratt’s as RR described his meals, with the sheer variety of foods in fresh, dried and powdered form he seems to ingest. It’s clearly as big a passion for him as his fitness, possibly more of one as it’s an aspect of his life which can more directly involve his family and his friends, and be related to by more people he encounters – something he can share to help improve people’s lives if they want his input.

I haven’t read a huge number of ‘athletic’ autobiographies, but when I do it’s often with the hope of seeing a glimmer of a future self who has the capacity, even if that path is never followed, of achieving similar things – be they experiences, feats of endurance, journeys to far off lands. I am not and do not think I ever will be Rich Roll. I lack his passion for detail and honestly his grit to stick with things through the long term even when they’re not fun! I admire his journey, but do not see myself ‘Finding Ultra’ by following his footsteps. My path takes me a different way.

The Keepers:

This has been a useful reminder of the importance of Z2 heart rate training for endurance building at a time when I am myself looking to build up to distance running more or less from scratch again. I have actually just upgraded my watch while reading this specifically to be able to download workouts to it.

I have never had any intention of going vegan as a dietary lifestyle for myself, but I am entirely on-board with reducing processed food and eating more vegetables. For me, whole food choices are healthier food choices and anything that gives me a nudge to remember that is helpful. If it helps remind me I can be a super-fit bean to with the right small choices made many times then I’ll take that.


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