Rich Roll, author, ultra-athlete, and wellness advocate whose book Finding Ultra was just published by Crown, spoke to me in California this week.
Amy: Your new book Finding Ultra is hot off the press! It's all about your journey to healthy living as well as a more grounded and spiritual self. What's the most important thing people should know about Finding Ultra?
Rich: Two things. First, just because I live in the extremes, doesn't mean the book isn't for you. Sure, I'm 100 percent plant-based. And I've done some admittedly nutty things when it comes to fitness. But the diet, fitness and lifestyle methods I have used to succeed in these arenas are entirely scalable, applicable and easily implemented whatever your goal may be, no matter how modest.
Second, on its surface the book is about an unhealthy guy who decided to get fit, lost a bunch of weight and went on to tackle a fitness goal. All fine and well. But between the lines, the Ultraman race and EPIC5 (where I completed five Ironman-distance triathlons on five Hawaiian islands in under a week) are intended as metaphor. At its core, the book is a spiritual journey about discovering and exploring a more authentic version of myself. And I think that is universal -- something we can all relate to, because we all have latent dreams deferred. Finding Ultra is a call to action to dust off that thing you've always wanted to do but just can't seem to ever get to -- and start doing it.
Amy: What was your first step toward cleaning up your act?
Rich: I've been lucky enough to experience two concrete moments of clarity. Those are windows in time in which a door opened, my denial was shattered and I had the willingness to take action and implement change. The first was getting sober after a protracted bout with alcoholism. The second occurred nine years later. Overweight, depressed and dissatisfied with the trajectory of my life, on the eve of my 40th birthday I was defeated by a mere flight of stairs, [compelling me to take] a hard, honest look at how I had been living and eating.
Amy: Where do you suggest others begin, who want an overall health trifecta of body, mind and spirit?
Rich: Trifecta is a perfect word. Because in my opinion, true optimum health is achieved only when all three -- body, mind and spirit -- are functioning properly in a balanced fashion. Here's a few easy tips to help you begin:
- Eat more plants. Avoid the middle aisles at the market [that are] overflowing with processed foods, and focus on a predominantly plant-based diet, increasing your intake of fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes and grains in proportion to meat and dairy products.
- Get active. Find a physical activity you enjoy and set a personal goal. Prioritize time to pursue this chosen goal. Set interim stepping-stone goals and reward yourself for surpassing milestones. Creating community around your goal will help you enjoy the journey and hold you accountable when it comes to follow-through.
- Go inside. Diet and exercise are only two-thirds of the balanced wellness equation. Make the time to meditate daily, preferably upon waking. If all you have is 10 minutes, that's great. Sure, there are plenty of techniques. But if you're just beginning, simply sitting quietly and focusing on your breath is a great place to start. Do it for 30 days, and watch your life change. Still having trouble setting this in motion? Get out of your comfort zone and check out a yoga class.
Amy: Of course you're one of the fittest people on the planet. You're an ultra-athlete. But you weren't always. What makes you want to go there?
Rich: For me personally, there is something very alluring about ultra-endurance sports. It involves a lot of alone time out in nature. Training sessions are like active, moving meditations -- the low-grade, protracted exertion quiets and calms my mind, allows me to tap into a more primal version of myself. It gives me a sense of connectedness that I think is lacking in our busy and stressful modern lives. There is something pure, simple and basic about being out on a remote trail at dawn -- the only sounds are those of my footsteps and my breath -- that is nurturing. It allows a better version of my self to surface.
Amy: For those of us who want to apply your lessons, but dare I say, dumb it down a little, or, you know, not go quite so epic, what do you recommend?
Rich: I have done some pretty extreme things. I realize of course that this approach is not for everyone. But the methods I have used to reconfigure my approach to diet, nutrition and fitness (all of which are discussed in detail in the book) are entirely scalable and applicable to your life, whether you want to complete an Ironman or just turn heads at the beach this summer. Using the three thumbnail edicts described above (eat more plants, get active and go inside), here are a few additional tips to help guide you forward and keep you on track:
- It's not about perfection. Nobody is perfect. If you miss a workout, veer off your diet or break a promise to yourself, give yourself a break. Nobody is perfect, so don't create that expectation for yourself. Just do the next right thing and get back on track. If you flog yourself for falling off track, you've just made a second mistake. And that mindset can take you out of the game altogether.
- Make some cuts. It's easy to say, I just don't have time. The boss is calling, the kids are crying and there are bills to pay. I get it. But the truth is, we all waste time. A lot of it. Get honest with how you spend your time by writing down how you spend every 15 minutes of every day in a typical week. Evaluate inefficiencies (web-surfing, late night television, business meetings that can be pushed to the phone or email, etc.), and make some cuts. You might be surprised how much time you can free up. Then prioritize the freed-up periods for self-care, even if it's just a 15-minute walk at lunchtime.
- Kitchen overhaul. I don't know about you, but when it's time for bed, I start impulsively scouring the cabinets for comfort food -- cookies, chips and ice cream. Dietary missteps can be easily avoided by ridding your kitchen of your default unhealthy snacks of choice. Start by excising the worst culprits -- processed snacks and sodas for example -- and build from there.
- Get liquid. Instead of a high-carb breakfast of pancakes or French toast, get used to drinking a salad for breakfast. Blending fresh greens like kale and spinach with fruit will give you a nutrient-dense kick-start to your day. Personally, I drink at least two smoothie drinks a day.
Amy: How do you maintain your health? Does it start as a frame of mind or a physical action?
Rich: Mind follows action. If you wait until you feel better to do something, you never do it. Take the action first, and the mind will follow. In other words, don't overthink it -- just begin.
Amy: In the beginning of your journey of Finding Ultra, what drove you? And how has that changed to what drives you now?
Rich: I was initially motivated by something I think we can all relate to -- I just wanted to feel better. Lose a little weight. And enjoy my children at their energy level. I had no grand designs on returning to competitive athletics, let alone pursuing a crazy endurance quest. But as my journey unfolded, the more interested I became in exploring my body's potential. I was driven to see just how far a middle-aged guy who had abused his body for so long could go, discovering that the human machine is far more resilient and amazing than I ever imagined.
Today my motivation is different. Of course I still love endurance sports, and will continue to explore my body's capabilities. But my passion is much more placed on helping others: sharing a healthy message with the world in service to better health. And thereby inspiring people to unlock and unleash the best version of themselves that's lying dormant within.
Amy: You're the father of four! How do you keep your kids involved in your lifestyle? Are they in training? What do you do to get them active? Do your kids ever rebel or tire from being vegan?
Rich: Both my boys enjoy sports and we often go trail running together. My little girls are active and love swimming and horseback riding. With respect to diet, we prefer to not have any hard-and-fast rules in our house when it comes to what the kids eat. Instead, we find it's better to lead by example. And the more we involve our children in the food shopping and preparation of meals, the more interested and invested they have become in eating the way we do. Kids will be kids. So when they are at a friend's house and want to have pizza, that's fine (and their business). So there is nothing to rebel against, really. But overall, they prefer to eat the way we do. It's nice to wake up in the morning and see my 17-year-old making a kale and grapefruit smoothie. Not because he has to, but because he wants to.
Amy: Your wife isn't an ultra-athlete, so how do you create balance in your own life with so many things -- family, work, training, eating well -- to manage?
Rich: Balance is a fickle lover I continue to pursue. It's very challenging to get all the moving pieces of our busy life functioning like a well-oiled machine. Much of it goes back to time management. Evaluating the week or day ahead, I ask myself, "What is mission critical for today? What can wait?" Honing your ability to prioritize is key. Tending to my wife and children always comes first. Because if that is out of balance, then nothing else in my life functions properly.
Rich is very excited to be in beta on his newly-launched website Jai Lifestyle, offering products and services such as his Jai Repair athletic recovery supplement and a downloadable Jai Seed eCookbook and Jai Release Meditation Programs.
And you can always find him on Twitter at @richroll.
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