On his 40th birthday, Rich Roll
made a decision to change his health – a decision that would change this average guy into “ultra guy.” Now 43, Rich will compete in November in his second Ultraman, a 3-day ultra-endurance event consisting of a 10 km swim, a 276 km bike ride and a 84 km double-marathon run, all on a 100% plant-based diet.
Rich Roll at age 39 on a day at the beach with his family before starting on his journey to health. Read to the end of the article to see his transformation.
Walk us through a week day of training?
Every week is different but I generally train between 20-30 hours per week. Mondays are almost always a rest day and the remainder of the weekdays involve some combination of running, swimming and/or biking, sometimes twice daily. Because swimming is my strength, I only swim about 2-3 times a week with about 4-5 run sessions and 3-5 bike sessions. Friday through Sunday are always big days. Typically, I swim 90 minutes to 2 hours on Friday followed by a 3-5 hour bike. Saturdays, I ride 6-9 hours in the Santa Monica Mountains and Sundays are long run days — anything from two 2hr45min runs to a long – up to 45 mile – run, depending upon my proximity to racing.
How do you make it all work? Between career, family, and training, do you sleep???
It’s definitely a tightrope walk. I am blessed in that I run my own law practice so I have the ability to create my own work schedule around training. That said, I have very little to no time for anything that does not involve family, work, or training. Everything non-essential — for example my social life — becomes temporarily suspended in the months leading up to a race like Ultraman. But because I love every minute of the training, I honestly don’t perceive it as a sacrifice. In truth, it’s a blessing to be able to pursue the things I love. As for sleep, I absolutely need at least 7 hours and try to make sure I get it when I can. Depending on my schedule, I often work late into the night, sleep in until about nine, then train before work. On other days, I will work in the morning and train midday. I keep all my training gear in my truck at all times so that when an opportunity arises, I am always ready to get on my bike, hit a trail run, or drop into a pool. On the weekends, I try to begin my workouts as early as possible so that I have time in the afternoons with the kids. However, I can’t say there haven’t been sacrifices. I have missed a lot of soccer games and am looking forward to making up some lost time after Ultraman. But as my children get older, I can see the positive effects trickling down into their habits. All our children are primarily vegan. Our 13-year-old, Trapper, has begun track workouts to supplement his soccer and our oldest Tyler, 14 years old, is very interested in getting into cycling.
At 40, you decided to make a change – a big one! What clicked for you to make the change?
I faced two big milestones in my life — turning 40 as well as celebrating 10 years in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Life had exceeded my expectations on all levels except one: my fitness and overall wellness which had been neglected for far too long as I had settled into a sedentary and frankly lazy lifestyle dominated by building a law practice and raising small children. As a former athlete in decay, these two milestones converged to snap me out of my comfort zone of denial and motivated me to make a change. Knowing myself, I knew I that in order to make any lasting change, I needed to draw a firm line in the sand. It began with a 7-day cleanse, followed by a period of vegetarianism, which I later supplanted by going entirely vegan. With a renewed vigor, I had not experienced since my twenties, the athletic goals quickly followed.
What inspired you to compete in Ultraman?
I tend to be an “all or nothing” sort of personality and am strangely attracted to extremes. I was pondering the idea of doing an Ironman when I read an article about an endurance athlete and Navy Seal named David Goggins
, who was in the midst of tackling every extreme ultra-endurance challenge he could find as a means of raising funds for the Wounded Warrior Foundation. The article featured his participation in this race called Ultraman and something just clicked inside me. It was just so extreme and exotic. My intuition and imagination was sparked in a way I cannot explain — I just knew I had to do this race.
What inspired you to follow a plant-based diet?
It was a gradual process that honestly was not influenced by any book or identifiable outside influence. At 40, my health was waning. Upon my wife’s urging and influence, I did a 7-day vegetable and juice cleanse, after which I simply felt amazing. I followed this up with an experiment in vegetarianism, which rapidly declined into a lot of pizzas, cream cheese and ice cream. My energy levels dissipated and I was ready to abandon the project when I thought I would give a plant-based diet a try. It began more as an effort to prove it wouldn’t work for me as I had always been an avid meat eater. I just didn’t believe that I could be vibrant – let alone athletic – on a plant-based diet. But after only a week I began to experience an unprecedented rise in my energy levels; I was literally bouncing off the walls. So I have just stuck with it ever since and never looked back. It was only after adopting this manner of nutrition that I began to educate myself on the benefits and intricacies of making it work long-term.
What will you do after this year’s race?
I will celebrate with my family and devote my focus to my wife and children, who have sacrificed greatly to support this adventure. That said, it’s important to understand that this is not about a race for me. It’s about the journey; a journey that is just beginning. It won’t be long before I begin focusing on the next adventure.
Rich Roll today. Crowning his transformation, Men's Fitness Magazine named Rich one of 2009's "25 Fittest Guys in the World