Five Ironmans in five days on five different Hawaiian islands. That’s an insane goal. It’s even more insane when you are in your 40’s. Yet, this is what Rich Roll, along with a friend, sought to do. It eventually took them 7 days once all of the logistics were taken into consideration, but they did it. They completed 12 miles of swimming, 560 miles of cycling, and 131 miles of running in under a week.
That’s impressive. But Rich Roll’s life story to get there was also impressive. He was a very accomplished swimmer in high school and college. He attended a few Ivy League schools (Stanford & Cornell) and got a law degree. His swimming career, and to a large degree, his legal career, were derailed by alcoholism. Rich’s 20’s and 30’s were basically lost years. On the eve of his 40th birthday, he is so winded going up a set of stairs, that he knew something had to change.
Thus proceeds a complete alteration of his diet (he’s completely plant-based), his exercise, and eventually, his livelihood. With a new spark brought about by a spiritual awakening during his recovery and the resulting sobriety, a energy-fueling diet, and athletic challenges, Rich transforms his life and becomes one of the elite runners and endurance (ultra) athletes in the world.
I loved this book. I loved Rich’s story and it filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge about him that I’ve gathered from his podcast. I didn’t know how deeply he had gotten into addiction. I didn’t know that he was in addiction recovery and that he had tangible spiritual experiences. I didn’t know how brutally honest he was and how humble he’d be in his description of his journey.
I thoroughly enjoyed the last chapter of the book. Rich goes through a series of suggestions that touched on many of the lessons we’ve seen in the books that are part of the Books of Titans reading list. The book was brilliantly arranged, perhaps a little too much in-depth for the Hawaiian Ironman adventure, but nonetheless, pretty fast moving the entire time. He also tied in a lot of pieces that have influenced me over the past few years – David Goggins, Born to Run, daily practices – that made the book much more personal for me.
Rich has done all of his recent athletic feats while in his 40’s and 50’s and on a completely plant-based diet. In fact, he’s sort-of become a de-facto spokesperson for a plant-based way of life. He doesn’t eat meat, dairy, or processed foods. For most of my life, I’ve heard that carbs are what one should eat before a big race, that to run well, you need to eat big, and that there is no way someone doing ultra-running events would be able to do so on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Rich has proved them wrong. It got me interested in what he eats (the book contains appendix information of his favorite recipes) and in running more.
This was one of 4 books I read about running this year and it is one of my favorites that I have ever read on the topic.