Finding Ultra tries to be inspirational and practical; his ambitions, however, ended up being higher than the result. The narrative we are sold is one of the author, Rich Roll, and his decade plus long narrative of transformation from overweight to endurance athlete stud and pseudo-spiritual guru (though I am sure that’s now how he would describe himself). He takes us through his life story in the first part, his transformation in the second part, and the lessons he learns along the way in the final part with an appendix full of practical wisdom around plant-powering oneself.
“The prize never goes to the fastest guy,” Chris replied. “It goes to the guy who slows down the least.” True in endurance sports. And possibly even truer in life.”
The redemptive story arc of the life he wrote about in the book undeniably inspirational. From awkward and shy kid to swimming stud to Stanford, it is the origin stories are made of. Then came his tragic downfall thanks to addiction and the slow path back from that into endurance sports. I found the chapters detailing the racing Rich did for Ultraman and EPIC5 to be the most captivating. The resiliency of the human spirit is something I can never tire from reading about. The lessons learnt and self-help section I found to be quite derivative of the literature popular in the self-improvement space. I am confident that’s not by design given how many times Roll advocates us away from that genre, but it ironically across as being stereotypically self-help-y. I recognise I am being harsh here, but I can’t help but feel this way about it.
If you’re at loss with what to read next, Finding Ultra is a serviceable option. This book tries to be a lot of things – memoir, informational guide, and self-help manifesto – but it ends up being a disjointed read in doing so. Practically, I resonated with most of what Roll advocates for in mind, body, and spirit but I do wish it was better packaged together, or better yet split off into separate books.