Finding Ultra by Rich Roll

March 20, 2013

Summary (from the publisher): The incredible true story of the author’s remarkable transformation, at the age of 40, from out-of-shape average Joe into one of the world’s best endurance athletes

On the eve of his 40th birthday, Rich Roll was in bad shape. His days were filled with work, stress, and junk food, and his nights were spent on the couch, remote in hand. Taking out the trash was the closest he came to exercise, and, at 50 pounds overweight, a walk up the stairs left him winded. He decided it was time to make a change. After undergoing a diet detox, adopting a vegan lifestyle, and pushing his fitness regimen to undreamed-of heights, he was profiled by Men’s Fitness as one of the world’s 25 fittest men. Among Roll’s many jaw-dropping athletic feats: he completed the unprecedented “Epic 5″—five back-to-back Ironman-distance triathlons on five different Hawaiian islands in under a week—an achievement many said was impossible. This is the story of that remarkable transformation, a complete physical and spiritual rejuvenation that proves that anyone can “find ultra” if they know how.


  • The story of Roll’s youth, college days, and subsequent spiral into alcoholism was oddly engrossing. I don’t know why, because nothing Roll did or experienced was out of the ordinary. Perhaps it’s just that he comes off as such a down-to-earth, regular guy that the reader feels compelled to listen.
  • The appendices, with detailed information about Roll’s plant-based diet, seem like they would be very useful for someone wishing to change their eating habits. I’m not planning on attempting that, but I could definitely see someone else putting those pages to good use.
  • I appreciated the fact that Roll touched (albeit briefly) on the fact that his training and attendance at various races put a crimp in his family’s finances. Since he was just Joe Average, with limited financial resources, you’d expect something like that to happen. Roll acknowledged the toll several times along the way.


  • While the Epic 5 challenge sounded pretty cool in theory, it wasn’t something that really deserved a blow-by-blow account in the book. As much as I liked the stuff about Roll’s younger days, I disliked hearing about each swim, each bike ride, and each marathon of the challenge.
  • I wish Roll had spent more time detailing his training regimen. I was most interested in the things his coach told him, such as slowing down in order to go faster, etc. I also liked the coach’s strategy for running four miles and walking one during the Ultraman competition. More of those tidbits and insights would have been welcome.
  • Roll obviously deserves a ton of credit for going from a guy who ate a “platter” of cheeseburgers just to relax to a guy who could complete five Ironman-length triathlons in six days. But he had a baseline that few others attempting this sort of transformation can lay claim to: he was a Division I collegiate athlete, a Stanford swimmer who had experience with extremely tough training schedules. Yes, he’d been out of that lifestyle for a good 20 years and had let his body go to shit in the interim. But even if there was no physical benefit from that experience, the mental edge of knowing he could do it is something few of his readers have.


You don’t have to be a vegan ultramarathoner to enjoy Rich Roll’s book. Finding Ultra is very readable and can be enjoyed by anyone interested in improving their physical fitness — or in simply hearing about someone else’s journey. I give this one 4 stars out of 5.

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