How an overweight 40-year-old became a top ultra-athlete

After shortness of breath from climbing the stairs at home, Rich Roll, author of Finding Ultra, decided to completely change his lifestyle. Dropping 60 lbs in 6 months, this out-of-shape dad became an ultra-endurance athlete at 39. Following is a transcript of the video.

Rich Roll: Ultra-endurance sports didn’t just change me physically, they actually gave me a brand new life. Throughout my 30s, I was climbing the corporate ladder, very intent on achieving the traditional idea of the American dream. But deep down inside, I started to question this path that I was on.

For well over a decade, I really hadn’t been taking care of myself. I had become a junk food addict, I was 50 pounds overweight, kind of semi-depressed, and shortly before I turned 40, I was climbing up a simple flight of stairs to go to bed one evening, and I had to pause halfway. I was winded, I was out of breath, I had tightness in my chest, and it was a very specific moment in time in which I realised that not only that I needed to change my lifestyle habits but that I had the willingness that I truly wanted to.

I realised that vague ideas of eating better or working out a little bit or going to the gym weren’t really going to work for me. I needed something specific, something definitive. I’d played around with a bunch of different diets, to no avail, and I sort of attempted this experiment in plant-based eating as kind of the last thing that I hadn’t explored. And I didn’t have a big expectation that it would make a big difference, but within about seven to 10 days of eating nothing but plants, nothing with a mother, nothing with a face, I experienced this extraordinary thing, like I had this resurgence in vitality, my mental acuity improved, my sleep improved, I had this sense of well-being and energy that I hadn’t really felt since I was a teenager. And I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I knew in that moment that I was onto something.

And it started getting me thinking about human potential and my own potential, because if I could make such a simple, basic shift and experience such a dramatic result, where were there other untapped reservoirs of potential that I could explore? And that’s what got me interested, ultimately, in the world of ultra-endurance sports.

At the peak of training, I would say I was training about 25 hours a week, so it was really almost a second job, and at the time, I was still a practicing attorney, I have four kids, I’m busy doing a lot of things, and in order to make the time that was required to appropriately prepare for this race, I had to make some significant cuts and really look hard and fast at how I was spending my time on a day-to-day basis. I had to get rid of late-night television and sort of business meetings that could be pushed to a conference call or an email chain to free up the time that was required so I could show up at the starting line and know in my heart of hearts that I could complete this race.

I started training, which really connected me with myself in a very profound way, and to the surprise of myself and many other people, I ended up showing some prowess in this field and ended up competing at a very high level, specifically a race called Ultraman, which is a double Ironman distance triathlon. Over the course of three days, it completely circumnavigates the entire big island of Hawaii.