Breathe, avoid McDonalds.

June 26, 2012
Will Gadd

Making time to breathe.

Eat Pho, not McDonalds.

I’m now 45 years old. A middle aged guy. My life has changed radically with each decade, and I’ve done a lot of stuff that isn’t really award-worthy. But there has almost always been one constant that I’m actually proud of: Nearly every single day I do something physical. I count every hour in motion as a victory. Every time I slip out of the house when the kids are asleep in the morning or evening and bike, hike, run, ski or just walk for an hour or two it’s a victory. You see, as someone smarter once figured out, an object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. So if I stay at rest for more than a day or two then I’m likely to stay there. Screw that, I’ve got to keep in motion. I can see what happens to people when they stop moving. They die.

I figure the type of movement is less important than the movement itself. I see a super fat lady out walking up a steep hill on a street and think, “Damn, that must be hard. You are a legend. All the houses you’re walking past right now? They’re full of people who make excuses not to get out and walk. And you’re out here going at it. You’re my hero.” I never say this because I don’t want to seem patronizing, but I truly feel it. I see the old guy cranking the Grouse Grind and think, “I want to be you.” I value my stolen hour in the gym as much as I value a day in the mountains; a day in the mountains is easy once you’ve left the desk, but the day I had to fight for an hour at the gym was a victory over life’s demands. And every day in the mountains was surely a great day too…

I go through airports all the time and see what the North American “lifestyle” is doing to people. The farther south you go in North America in general the fatter people get. And airports are where nutritional truth is revealed; I just finished up a meal at an airport restaurant and spent some time perusing what other people were eating. As usual, the rather large dude had a massive plate of nachos, a fried burrito disaster literally dripping with something gelatinous, and a diet Coke. The skinny bastard had a beer, tacos, and left most of the chips (not me, I was hungry as hell and ate ‘em). I got onto the last flight of the day behind two large people carrying a bag full of licorice and other sugar; their kids were already super sized, and that just sucks for them. What sucks more is that huge parents and fat elementary-school kids are now the norm, not the exception. Something is wrong.

Look at the lineup to McDonalds in the airport or any food court and then look at the lineup at the “Edo” place. I guarantee the lineup at the burger (read burger with huge white bread bun, huge fries, huge milkshake/apple pie etc) stand will be far fatter than any other lineup (and the costs aren’t all that different so no excuses there). If you want to see what people truly eat study airport dining, it’s like watching life through a one-way mirror. And then look at the people who walk the stairs vs. ride the escalator, who stand on the conveyor belts instead walking. Things get real clear real quick: Eat shitty food and avoid exercise and you’ll stop moving and get larger. And once you get past a certain point it’s a lot harder to move (my hero lady aside). And if you stop moving you die. We’re all circling the drain every day of our lives; move faster and you stay farther from the hole for longer, like a marble in the sink.

But making time to breathe can be hard. You have to fight for it. I’m proud of the times I win the fight to breathe hard. Today I had three business meetings in two cities separated by an hour’s drive, plus the flight home. I got up early and had one of the best hour-long hike/runs I’ve had in years in the mountains near Ogden, Utah. I revel in the landscape of the American west; it’s literally intoxicating to me. The scrub oak, the smells, the dirt, I love it, and I would have missed it if I hadn’t gotten up early. As I struggled up to a ridge and then scrambled along the rocks and back down I felt life was beautiful in a way I would not have experienced if I’d lazed over breakfast instead of getting a coffee and moving. That’s all the time difference I really needed: coffee and go vs. sitting down. I ended my last meeting with just enough time to scrape in 45 minutes at the climbing gym on the way to the airport. Then it was a mad sprint to the airport, drop the rental car, do a “dry” shower in the airport bathroom, onto the flight. You think I’m bragging? I am. I hear people bragging about how many beers they drank the night before like it’s an accomplishment. Well it is sometimes, but I’m way more proud of every single day I’ve spent some time sucking oxygen hard than I am of the times I drank too much, slept in, wasted time sending useless but somehow important emails or whatever. Because as I look back at those wasted days there was almost always an hour or two I could have sliced out to get out and breathe. I hate those wasted days; I have never regretted working out, going for a walk, getting on a plane stinking, not once. In fact, I’ve loved every single experience. But we all try to be busy instead of being alive, be busy instead of getting out and breathing, be busy instead of being productive, be busy sending useless texts instead of walking in the woods with our kids or running there with our friends…. I do it too, but I’m missing the point of life when I let “busy” replace “breathing.”

And lately I’ve been hanging out with some people who don’t get the beautiful luxury of being able to just go out and move, whether it’s in the mountains or the gym or whatever. Their broken or malfunctioning bodies won’t let them. Yet they still fight for time outside in the sun, drink in the day, and exercise as best they can.  If they can fight to literally breathe at all and still exercise, if the fat lady can get out the door and move, if the guy in the business suit can jam the stairs instead of the escalator just for the sheer hell of it then most of us have no excuses at all. Keep moving, keep breathing, keep the inertia on your side. Rest days should be a welcome anomaly, not a way of life. And avoid lineups with lots of morbidly obese people in them, it’s a sign of what the future looks like if you spend too much time in the same places… Airports, American chain restaurants and conveyer belts all move us closer to the drain hole. Keep the good momentum up. Life’s more fun when you move.




42 Comments. Leave new

Brilliant, Coach!

Jeff Sutherland
June 26, 2012 8:45 am

One of the better ones Will! Thanks for the continued doses of inspiration, and glimpses into how you do things. Don’t stop moving (don’t stop hitting “publish” on the blog/facebook posts too!)

Sean Verret
June 26, 2012 9:20 am

Great post Will – I think you must have read my mind. I have a similar post drafted in my drafts folder that talks about the laziness of an airport and how fat people are getting. If we are supposed to be 30 minutes or more before our flight, then why the hell do we need moving sidewalks? Is it really that far people? And if you are on the moving sidewalk it doesn’t mean your legs can’t move… I’m going to stop ranting, because I think you’ve captured it all!

Laurel Ambrose
June 26, 2012 10:37 am

Yes, indeed. In fact, this morning I got up at 5:30 AM (unusual for me), and decided to spend two hours just walking in the thick brush in my local park. I went volcano climbing in the US, and commented discreetly to my team partners while we were in a local restaurant that we were virtually the only non-obese people in the entire room. This shocks me. A lot. When I’m flying back to Canada, with my heavy pack on my back, I never use the moving sidewalks, I walk parallel to them. Will, you have been described by a mutual friend of ours as the “uber athlete.” Staying in motion daily has no doubt brought you, and kept you, there. Our bodies were engineered to move. For as long as I can keep that momentum, I will, as well. Thanks for your great post(s), as always.

Chris from munich
June 26, 2012 11:22 am

Thank you for sharing your thought!

You are so right – you know it – we know it – I feel it.

Thank you – again – for some inspiration I needed on this very day!



Awesome! Thank you.

Warren Macdonald
June 26, 2012 11:36 am

Great post Will; love the marble circling the drain analogy! Speaking of airports; I was told recently at HKG that some older folks are requesting wheelchairs after being advised that it’s “easier to navigate the airport” that way. I like to make an extra effort in front of these folks; overtaking them at mach 1 with my wheel-along out front; pushing with one arm… I’m finding I have less and less time for those screaming out to be disabled. Is it just me?

Carlos Arrufat
June 26, 2012 11:52 am

Thanks for the inspiration, Will! It really “move-tivated” me to become more and more proactive in Life. I’ll keep it in mind.

Suzanne Jolly
June 26, 2012 11:55 am

Love it! Thanks for promoting health with compassion and understanding. You’re a gifted storyteller!


Truer words have never been written.

June 27, 2012 11:05 am

Will, this is very meaningful and motivating for me. I am that obese person chugging up the hill. I used to be you in cycling form, riding every chance I got, until I got married and had 4 kids. I let that get in my way of moving. I have been landlocked in feeling to my house watching young ones. Lately I have taken up hiking, which is the avenue for the roundabout way I found your blog here. I leave the house at 11 pm, hiking with a 50# pack for up to 15 miles, 3 nights a week. I am tired of the comments I hear behind my back at the restaurant. I am tired of the looks I get from my once friends. I am tired of the jack ass in the airport pushing past me and making comments. I am not supersized, but I am big enough that the kid who signed me up at the gym snickered as he announced my weight to everyone in the immediate vicinity ” wow ‘snicker’ your morbidly obese ‘holding back a laugh’.” I worked in construction until the bottom dropped out. My wife and I traded places and now I am Mr. Mom. I hate the gym. everytime I go I feel the life getting sucked out of me, a gerbil on a tredmill going nowhere.Thus the hiking at night. I am rambling. Thank you for the well thought out motivation devoid of arrogance. I once was lean and moving. Then family restricted it, but I had my job that kept me climbing stairs and lifting things, I moved. Then I got laid off and I sit at home watching children. Depression hit and I started eating. I am 5’9 and hit 300#. You are so right about the marble. I feel I am fighting for my life to get out of that last section before I drop into the p-trap below the drain. I am moving, but it is hard. Motivation like this is my nourishment. I don’t like fast food, never have. Depression eating and inactivity are my killers. Thank you Will for not being arrogant and/or patronizing. I am motivated and have sat typing this for far too long. It is sunny out and I am going to take the kids on a bike ride as I walk.


Will, there’s a time and palce for everything, even McDonalds! In your Hyalite Canyon video from this past season, you were eating nothing but JUNK FOOD! ;)

Andy Perkins
June 27, 2012 9:16 pm

Excellent, Will. Even mountain guides need to breathe occasionally.
Hopefully see you at Kendal Mountain Festival in November, and we’ll make time for some climbing wall action in between beers.

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Greg Reynolds
June 28, 2012 9:15 am

Thanks for the inspiration. I live in Ogden and get out on the trails to run intervals or do laps at a local crag almost every morning. I’m bummed that I didn’t just happen to run into you while you were here.

Caroline Doucet
June 28, 2012 9:33 am

Hard to resist leaving my desk after reading those words! 2 hours and counting until “breathing hard time” ! :-)


This is just a test


I almost forgot the true reason why I get up the extra hour earlier every morning to get outside to run and breath. Its not the competition what it is for it is simply for a better life. Thx Will


Harsh but true. I’m always amazed by the motorized shopping carts full of I cream and diet coke.

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How is McDonalds any different than your main sponser? I usually only see the ‘McDonalds crowd’ drinking it, trying to make up for their lack of energy because of poor fitness. Also, in your Hyalite Canyon video from this past season, you brought nothing but JUNK FOOD! ;)


Great post. I’ll be sure to keep this one for myself and share it with others.


Thanks Will,
My thoughts exactly, keep moving, keep you eye on the prize health, happiness, balance. I will share your words around.


Fantastic piece of writing, Will. This absolutely should be mandatory reading for every literate individual in a first-world country. Thank you for writing this, for LIVING it.


Right on, Will.

Stacey Couturier Hughes
July 4, 2012 7:50 am

Thanks Will, this is a great inspiration, I’ve shared it to my FB as well. I will be quoting this to my high school students!

thanks for making us stand up and take notice..

Stacey Couturier Hughes
July 4, 2012 7:51 am

oops… pressed send too quickly! :)

Thanks also for making me realize that I shouldn’t be jealous that my husband get out for his run or bike ride, but just to make my own time for that as well… every minute outside is worth it!!! :)

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July 4, 2012 6:37 pm

Great thoghts as always, thanks. Yes, I can attest that you do something everyday and have been witness to the good and the bad…..:O
Keep moving forward my friend!

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This is a great post, and it reminds me of a story that I’d like to share.

I was working as an apprentice electrician in early 2007 and I was on a 6-month job doing a big electrical upgrade on a retirement/nursing home north of Seattle. The remodel was happening with tenants on-site, so we had a lot of interaction with the residents. We’d go room-to-room, pulling in wire and replacing smoke detectors, and, in 10-minute segments in each room I would see all of The Price is Right, all of Rosie O’Donnell, all of Fox News – everyone sitting and watching the same thing. It was pretty common to have residents tell you the same thing three or four times in a day, and they would often get lost (in their own building!) and ask us for directions.

But there was one guy, Lou, who was so spry. He would always amble up with a big grin on his face, and crack some joke or bit of wisdom. I shook his hand on his 95th birthday and asked him, “Lou, a lot of the people here are in pretty rough shape, but you are mentally sharp, happy, and physically fit, at 95 years! What’s your secret?” His sparkling grin dropped for a second and Lou looked me in the eye, dead serious like I had never seen him before, and said simply, “Never stop moving.” He held the eye contact for a minute, then winked, smiled, and walked away.

I’ve made it a point to keep Lou in mind, and to make his advice a part of my daily life. At 95 years he spent 4-6 hours a day in his little corner garden, growing veggies and flowers, and it kept him sane, happy, and breathing.

Thanks for the inspiring words!


Well said. Thanks for sharing!


Hi Will,
now there is even a scientific back-up for your post on BBC:
“Limiting the time we spend sitting to just three hours a day could add an extra two years to our life expectancy, scientists calculate.”

Thanks for your inspirational thoughts!

Michael Fahey
July 10, 2012 7:58 pm

I just finished a really nice hour long run in the cool evening in Chicago. Afterwards I sat down to read an older post you wrote about a climbing class. I’ve known for a while that I needed to focus on technique and not just power. Then I wandered upon this post after thinking I wanted to know more about the person that wrote the wisdom about climbing. I could not agree more. WIthout reranting (lol) we are a nation addicted to everything that is over stimulating. we do everything too much except take good care of ourselves. It is more than popular too abuse your body, as you said, people bragging about how much they drank. That always seemed ironic to me. What makes me happy is the opposite gradient of people who are deciding, I think I’ll run a marathon, I think I want to take up road racing or just get out and enjoy the day and get some exercise. I am constantly egging people on about working out. Its not so much to say that I am better than anyone else. It is to give people hope, encourage them, get them out of the office slump of laziness and bad diet. Sometimes people just need a tiny push to change their behaviour or an example or a kind word. That is what we should all be sharing. Our energy is there to share and we should give it freely. Thanks for the excellent article and for hitting the nail on the head. Keep on moving yourself away from the drain as long as you can!


Really loved this. Well put and thank you for the (re) inspiration.

Julie Muller
July 12, 2012 8:17 pm

Excellent inspiration! Thanks Will!


Love everything about this post.

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