”I think people are looking to feel alive. I think people are looking to feel vibrant and connected to themselves and the world. Henry David Thoreau said it the best ’The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation’. I think that is a very prophetic, astute assessment of humankind. It was appropriate then and it is perhaps even more appropriate now. A lot of people are living a life and working jobs that are not fulfilling – they are sitting in cubicles, they are working nine-to-five and they are just living for their weekend. This is not the natural state for humans. This disconnects us from, not only ourselves, but also from the environment and that leaves us deeply dissatisfied and confused about what life is really about.”
Every once in a while the planets and stars are aligned and I get the chance to meet up with one of the really big and interesting international names.
”And I think Adventure- and Endurance Sports is a way of reconnecting that cord and allowing people to engage in something that is primal and that is deeply woven into our DNA.”
Rich Roll is often described as a plant based ultra endurance athlete, meaning he is on a strictly vegan diet and that he has competed in challenges such as the Ultraman Triathlon and also feats like the Epic5 that he completed back in 2010. Rich Roll is also the author of the books Finding Ultra and The Plantpower Way – both best sellers with Finding Ultra reaching #1.
He originally popped up on my radar a couple of years ago since he also hosts the immensly popular Rich Roll Podcast that more or less subscribes to a top-10 position on iTunes. Just like myself Rich started his podcast almost five years ago.
Rich Roll competed as a butterfly swimmer in Stanford University but in his late twenties he ended up in severe alcohol and drug addiction leading to a decision at the age of 31 to spend one hundred days in rehab to start a new chapter of his life.
“A big part of my story is drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. By the time I was thirty I was really a desperate, hope-to-die alcoholic. The kind of drunk that starts drinking in the morning with a vodka tonic in the shower and continue like that throughout the day until I blackout, woke up in strange places not knowing where my car is. DUI:s, getting arrested and the like.”
Rich is turning fifty this year and he hasn’t raced in five years. So taking on a challenge such as ÖTILLÖ – with a course consisting of 65 kilometers of trail running and 10 kilometers of open water swimming in the Baltic Ocean has ment a bit deal when it comes to both mental as well as physical preparations.
If you’re not already a subscriber of Rich Rolls fantastic podcast I strongly recommend you to check that out. His preparations and expectations for ÖTILLÖ has been the topic of at least three episodes of The Coach’s Corner together with Chris Hauth.
“I don’t consider myself being some inspiring figure, I’m just a guy trying to figure life out like everybody else. But the truth of the matter is that I do have this audience and that provides me with an opportunity and also a responsibility to use that platform for the greater good. So in that context I see myself as a generator and a catalyzer, as someone who has had the good fortune of being able to help activate people to self-actualize in a way that they have perhaps overlooked in their life. One of the themes that come up all the time in the show is the idea that we are all sitting on top of vast reservoirs of untapped human potential.”
In my pre-race interview with Rich Roll we talk about the defining moments of his life leading up to his arrival in Stockholm for the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Series, we talk about how the fact that he hasn’t raced in five years affects the preassure, perceived or real, from both followers and from himself.
We discuss his view and thoughts on Swimrun and ÖTILLÖ, about the curiousity in learning something new and what made him sign up. We talk about mental and physical preparations and I do my best to encourage Rich to compare the more static and easier-to-predict challenges such as for instance Kona Ironman vs. the perhaps a bit more unpredictable and adventure focused challenge of ÖTILLÖ.
“Triathletes are very individuated and they have the blinders on – ‘this is my data, this is what I’m doing and this is my thing…’. But in Swimrun you have a partner, you have a team mate and that changes everything! And I would imagine that the teams that are doing well are the ones that really knows how to communicate and stay positive.”
We talk about his friend, the lebanese adventurer Maxime Chaya that I’ve had as a guest on this show, we talk about trends within endurance sports in the US and why he really thinks more and more people are looking for Adventure and Endurance challenges.
* * *
The 2017 edition of the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship turned out to be one of the most challenging in the ÖTILLÖ history due to gale force winds with gusts over 20 m/s (40 kn/s). Even the night before Race Directors Michael Lemmel and Mats Skott considered changing the course to a shorter one – something that would have been the first time the original course was changed.
We did not have time to do record a summary of the race on site so instead we recorded one the week after Rich got back to LA – that summary with his thoughts on the race and his performance will follow in this episode just after the first interview.
I strongly recommend you to also listen to the excellent edition of Coach’s Corner recorded just one day after the race where Rich and Chris goes through their experience. Another favorite episode of the Rich Roll Podcast is the interview with Big Mountain Skier Lynsey Dyer.
Also check out the article about Rich and ÖTILLÖ in the New York Times.
If you like this episode please check out the rest of the Husky International series – such as my interview with Rich’s friend Maxime Chaya, with Spanish Triathlete Javier Gómez Noya, with Gary Fischer or with the amazing couple Caroline Ciavaldini and James Pearson.
Cover photo © Rich Roll / richroll.com
Be mobile, listen to Husky on the move! Download acast for Android or iPhone and subscribe to Husky International.