I decided the smart thing to do then would be to buck up and create a plan for race day so that I don't end up crawling the second half of the course. The scenery is supposed to be astounding, but we actually split from the half at the three mile mark, so I'm planning for a lot of the race to be pretty lonely - making getting my head straight beforehand even more important. (Though all the reviews I've read said the aid stations and residents along the course are amazing at providing support!)
The race has two cutoffs: 6 hours to get to mile 22 and 7 hours to finish. This is actually a pretty generous pace of 16:21 min/mile for the first cut-off (and the second cut-off requires only a slight increase in pace). Blue Ridge recommends adding 30-60 minutes to your normal marathon finish time to predict your Blue Ridge time. Assuming I haven't lost fitness from Myrtle Beach, this would work out to be between 5:21 and 5:51. (Considering how much slower I ran in Knoxville, I assume I will be closer to the 5:51 end of the spectrum.)
There was a recent pre-race email that had a chart to predic your Blue Ridge finishing time based on a flat 5K time. Unfortunately, for anyone that runs slower than a 28:30, which includes me, we were basically told to grab a spot in the back and hang on. The email also reminded us there is no shame in walking this course...duly noted.
Ok, that might have been a little sarcastic, but I'm going to take their words to heart. I remember when I ran MDI, I felt fine on the hills in the beginning, but I positive split the race by about 20 minutes, so I know the hills really took a toll, even if it didn't feel like it in the moment. I think it's time I finally learn my lesson.
While there are lots of small hills on the Blue Ridge course, there are three major hills, all of which I plan to walk. I initially freaked out about this idea, terrified I would miss the cut-off(s), but then I realized it won't be that many miles of walking, and as long as I make myself power through, my pace should still be below the cut-off pace. (And since it's rolling, I'll have already given myself a cushion.) I also know how high my HR gets running hills on the treadmill, and I'd rather keep it a bit lower to conserve energy.
The first major hill that I will walk is between miles 5 and 6.5. I'm hoping I can really hustle through in about 22 minutes. The second major hill is from miles 11 to 12.5. This one is less steep than the first, so I'm hoping I can walk this in about 20 minutes. The third and final hill is between miles 17 and 18.5. There is a short downhill section in there, so I'm hoping I can also do this section in 20 minutes as well.
If you were to assume there are no downhills (which there are plenty of), I will probably be four to five minutes slower per walking mile than running mile (sad slow panda), adding 20 to 25 minutes to my total time, which seems reasonable based on Blue Ridge's guidelines.
However, like I said, there are some massive downhills to make up for the crushing uphills. I've been reading advice on the course, and I guess deciding how to handle these is the bigger dilemma. Running too fast will trash your quads, but you want to enjoy coasting when you can.
The hills did a pretty good number on my quads in Knoxville, but I think they'll do that no matter what. We have a few very steep (though short) hills I run all the time by our apartment, so now I'm decent at handling them without totally bombing down - or feeling like I'm going to trip and land on my face. My goal for the downhills is to let myself go a little but remain in control.
The three weeks between Knoxville and Blue Ridge has flown by (how is it already mid-April?!), but I feel like the minimal training I was able to fit in went really well. My legs feel well recovered, and my mental and emotional engagement with running is still strong.
Worst case, if my plans blow up in my face, I can take in my surroundings while I suffer.