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I failed a marathon at 40km recently due to pain in the left knee and pain in the muscle of the right leg, what I believe could be the Vastus Medialis Obliquus according to the picture.

Here you can see the process of the marathon. You can see that it was a rather slow and steady decline after the first 21km or so.

I did a 12 weeks training plan successfully and without any health issues; see the training plan; it is from Runner's World and I used it successfully before (though it was for a marathon under 4h). The max. heart frequency I used for the training plas was 190 beats per minute.

You can also see the statistics and from there the workouts.

I could have walked slowly till the end, but the gates closed after 4h. So it did not make any sense for me to continue with the pain.

My question is what could be the reason?

  • The course had some (slow but rather longer) slopes, whilst I trained on a rather flat course. Does this make a difference? Does this make sense?
  • I have issues with my left knee. Though I trained well and had no issues whatsoever during the training.
  • During the run I only had water every 5km and a fruit bar. No special food or energy gels were taken or provided. The days before the food was mostly rice, noodles and meat. Porridge for breakfast on the day of the run.
  • I used the running shoes that I trained with during the whole time.
  • I had no respiratory problems nor did I feel exhausted. I was feeling very fit. That is the part that wonders me most. I felt fit, but my legs refused service?
  • I trained in Málaga, Spain. The marathon was in Pyongyang, North Korea.

I try to understand my situation, but my thoughts so far are not really satisfying. I hope to find hints or answers here. Please share this question with anyone you may think could help.

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I think your question is extremely broad, but there are some commonalities to this situation that are applicable across a wide range of endurance events, so I will hit the high points of the things that beginning endurance athletes often don't think about or do wrong.

  • Climate: Many times people underestimate the effect that climate has on an endurance event. Either much hotter or cooler, or differences in humidity can wreak havoc on the race.
  • Elevation: Going either up or down drastically can have an effect on the race. Going down is usually preferable, people have much greater impact going from low to high.
  • In race nutrition: If you don't train with it, don't do it on race day. Too often people either drink/eat way more or less than they do during a training. This can have a drastic impact on race execution.
  • Pre race nutrition: Again, if you don't do it in training, don't do it on race day. See above.
  • Pacing: This is another very common one for people to miss when racing. They get out there, they are amped up and excited, and they feel good, so they push a little more than they were planning. Even a few seconds per mile faster at the beginning can put you in a huge hole by the end of the race. Even if you feel awesome, wait until after 1/2 way through a race before you think about deviating from your plan.
  • Terrain: Same as pacing. If the terrain is different from where you train, you either need to travel to train occasionally under the same terrain conditions, or be prepared to slow your pace accordingly.

Now for your specific situation, the climate and elevation between the two locales are fairly similar, so barring some major difference on race day, I would not count those. You give your nutrition, but you don't state if it is the same. Since you say they "only had" certain items, I am guessing that it is less than you trained with. Might want to have a snack belt or something next time, just in case.

For the pacing and terrain, I am putting forth as a guess that the extra hills, even slight, plus the different nutrition are what threw off your game. (Unless it was because North Korea, I am surprised they closed the finish gates at 4 hours. That's an awfully short time for a typical non elite marathon group).

The final thing to consider, is that when people say "I feel fit but I just can't make myself go", is that you are over trained or not rested enough. You don't mention what kind of taper you had, or how long the rest was in your training plan, but it may be that you weren't rested enough.

Don't worry, a lot of these things are learned through experience. Keep at it, and keep a log of things you do in training, see what common elements are there on the days you feel great, and try and put that all together on race day. Have fun with it!

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