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Mountains vs Marathons

The last time I attempted to summit a mountain at altitude was in 2015. It was a stupid idea, as six days later I was running the London Marathon on a last minute stand-in place for Friends of Conservation, a charity that Exodus Travels works very closely with.

At the time I wrote a blog post about my experiences, comparing which challenge was the tougher one. I thought that looking back over it would fill be with confidence and inspiration….but does a marathon seriously hurt the legs less than a mountain??!!

Here is the list I compiled of important issues and curious comparisons that apply to both…


Elise Wortley, trekking to Mt.Toubkal, Morocco

I’d heard bad things about marathons. People’s legs so damaged they get stuck in their basement flats for 3 days afterwards, blisters, fatigue, “St Johns Ambulance” was mentioned a lot….so at the start line accompanied by 38,000 others I was pretty nervous to say the least. It took over half an hour to properly get going. The build-up was unbearable.

Compare this to Mt.Toubkal in Morocco, a beautiful flat valley with a towering mountain rage ahead of you inviting you in with its tranquil white peaks. You feel at one with nature and don’t care what awaits you higher up; you just casually plod on taking in the scenery without a worry in the world.



Loo with a view of Mt.Toubkal, Morocco

Immediately as those EasyJet wheels touched down in Marrakesh, the toilet talk started. I knew from past experience that it would crawl its way in and take over all conversations at some point, but it got in there fast this time. “Better go now than up the mountain” people were muttering…”but I don’t need to go now” I thought, panic rising, not knowing where I would get the next opportunity. But in all honesty there is nothing to worry about. There are plenty of toilet opportunities up a mountain, you can even fashion yourself a rustic looking toilet seat out of rocks, sit back and enjoy your loo with view. After the deed you can go back to your group and let them all know how it went and inform them of where the best spot is. You’re a toilet hero!

But not the marathon. Nobody talks about these toilet problems before you agree to undertake this challenge. It’s a silent issue that lingers over every runner. The problem is that while running a marathon you never know when you’ll need to go, it’s usually sometime after the 7/8 mile mark just when you have a good rhythm going. You obviously can’t go anywhere you want (unless your Paula Radcliffe) like up a mountain, and like me you will probably get caught out a while before the next Portaloo stop, so when you arrive at your absolute limit there is a huge queue. You panic and look for other options: a bush, a bin, behind a post box…self-respect goes out the window. Luckily for me a run-down pub full of locals was on hand so I ditched the queues and popped in there. I didn’t care about the funny looks or comments; I was a smug #toilethero!



Elise Wortley, Mile 25 of the London Marathon. I am still running, just very slowly!

It was the coming down that did it. 4 hours of continuous downhill, sliding through snow and climbing over rocks. Don’t underestimate the downhill walking! I thought I would need some serious physiotherapy when I got out of bed the next day. The entire group were hobbling around like something terrible had happened to us. The main issue was stairs - we could go up them, but had huge issues getting down.

It's now 2 days after I completed the grueling 26.2 mile marathon course and I feel surprisingly good. I was terrified of what was in store for me this week but apart from the odd blister and tender stomach(?!) muscle I’m raring to go!



Elise Wortley and Exodus Travels group at the top of the pass, Morocco

You only have temporary friends during a marathon. Eccentric friends who you haven’t met before who make you laugh with their crazy costumes and inspire you with their wild outlook on life. They use you for your support and kind words…then they run off and leave you. Although there is a great sense of community during the race you realise you are completely alone. It’s scary.

You don’t often get elderly men in tutus with a boom box karaoke set in hand singing “hit me baby one more time” up a mountain, but you do get a group of top individuals who have got your back. They are with you every step of the way, waiting if you fall behind and willing to pick you up if you fall. They stay with you right to the bitter end!



Elise Wortley with medal and wrap after the London Marathon, 2015

Unfortunately we didn’t make the top of the mountain due to extreme blizzards and avalanche risks! So there’s your first mountain problem. If we had a clearer day I’m sure we would have been greeted with astonishing views, but as it stands we couldn’t see an inch in front of us and just wanted to get down. Then there is the altitude issue, which has you gasping for breath every step you take, although I was probably doing exactly the same amount of gasping during the marathon, but for very different reasons.

With a marathon you know where the finish line is. You count down every mile the entire way until you see it - covered in balloons just for you and surrounded by a cheering crowd shouting “GO LISA” which I happily accepted (it’s only a two letter difference after all). Once you cross the line you raise your hands and bow your head with pride as a lady with a very kind face places the medal over your head. All we got up the mountain was dried figs.



Civilised meal at the end of a long trek, Marrakech, Morocco

Whoever had to witness me eat (or should I say ravage) my salmon and cream cheese sandwich moments after the finish line I sincerely apologise. It was a hideous display of a loss of self-control which shamefully lasted just seconds. You are hungry by mile 15, you can’t eat because of the cramps, so when you finish you would go to the lengths of robbing a child of their lunch. But having burnt off over 3000 calories the feeling of being able to stuff your face with whatever you want is unbeatable!

Mountain hunger is different, it’s a creeper. You don’t notice until you sit down, take off your boots, have a cup of local tea and reflect on the day. Suddenly you realise you’ve been walking for 9 hours and you must be starving! You eat with the rest of the group courteously around a beautifully laid table, politely forking the food into your mouth like a normal sane human being.


So there you have it - neck and neck - both equally as wonderful or terrifying (depends how you look at it) as the other!

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