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RADJournals: Brianna Grigsby is in hot pursuit of a Golden Ticket

Five weeks. Two Golden Ticket Races. One goal…to compete at Western States.

Ever since I started running ultras in 2016, I had my eyes set on Western States. At the time, I was a family medicine intern working 80 hours a week, and serious training (along with 100 mile races) was out of the question! But in 2018, once my work schedule was a bit lighter, I ran my first Western States qualifier at Black Canyon 100k and entered my name in the lottery, along with a seemingly endless list of other hopefuls! I had finished in 18th place with a time of 12:37. “I think you have the potential to get a Golden Ticket in a few years,” my coach, Megan Roche, told me.

I continued to train, I continued to race, and I continued to get faster. Black Canyon became a recurring event on my calendar each year, and by 2021, I had cut almost two hours from my original finish time in 2018. However, I was still almost two hours behind the leading ladies. Shortly after the race in 2021, I talked on the phone with my coach. “I’ve already cut two hours, and I’m happy with my performance, but I want a Golden Ticket. How can I possibly cut two more hours?” The task seemed impossible! “You can cut two more hours,” she replied. “I wouldn’t tell you that if I didn’t really believe it.”

My coach's unwavering confidence in me bolstered my own self-belief. I kept training…and I signed up for Bandera 100k and Black Canyon 100k. Never had I run two 100k races so close to each other, let alone competitive Golden Ticket races that were both “A races” for me.

My attitude and approach to these races was different from previous years. In the past, I had been afraid to tell people that I wanted a Golden Ticket. What if I failed? What would people think of me? Would they think I was crazy to even consider that I could win a Golden Ticket? After all, none of the pre-race predictions or articles even mentioned me, despite diving upwards of 15 women deep into the “top of the field.” I was not in anyone’s top 10. But my coach believed in me, and my friends and family believed in me, and for the first time ever, I actually believed in myself! I decided to put myself out there, make it clear that I was going for a Golden Ticket, and see what happened. I chose not to care what other people would think of me if I failed to achieve my goal.

Bandera 100k…I knew from the start that it wasn’t going to be a Golden Ticket day. My asthma was much worse than usual and my legs felt like lead even in the first few miles. I resisted the temptation to drop out, and decided to do my best with the hand I was dealt. In the end, I surprised myself with a 5th place finish in 10:15, about 25 minutes short of 2nd and the Golden Ticket.

Performing so well at Bandera despite less than ideal circumstances fueled my self-belief moving toward Black Canyon. My strategy after Bandera was to prioritize recovery and then maintain my fitness; the close proximity of the two races on my calendar prevented much building between them.

 Black Canyon 100k…I felt amazing from the start. My legs were light and springy, and incredibly, this lasted for the entire race! My previous experience with the course and with running in the heat paid off, and I worked my way up the field the entire day, not being passed (permanently) by another woman from the first aid station at mile 7 to the end of the race. Having no clue what place I was in, I was shocked when my crew told me at mile 51 that I was in 5th place. This lit the fire within me even more, and I ran as hard as I could to the finish, hoping the whole way that I might catch the ladies in front of me!

I didn’t catch them…I finished 5th, just 5 minutes behind 4th and the Golden Ticket (since Clare Gallagher, the female winner, declined her ticket). I dropped over an hour from my previous course PR, finishing in 9:49. Success and failure, all wrapped up in one! While I demolished all my previous performances on this course, I missed the Golden Ticket by a mere 5 minutes! Could I have chopped 5 minutes off my time? When I asked myself this question in the days after the race, my honest answer was that I left it ALL out there…I had a great day and ran my very best. What if I had known that the Golden Ticket would roll to 4th and that I was only 5 minutes behind her? It’s a question to which I will never know the answer, and I think I prefer not knowing!

The joy and happiness I experienced from being surrounded by so many family and friends at Black Canyon was so overwhelming that I never felt sad or depressed about failing to achieve my goal of a Golden Ticket. In fact, seeing how close I came to earning that coveted entry to Western States boosted my confidence even more! Now that I’ve come within 5 minutes of a Golden Ticket, I know with all of my heart that it’s possible!

Will I try again? Without a doubt! I’ve never been a person to give up easily on achieving my goals. When I fail, I do the same thing as when I trip and fall on the trail: I get up, brush off the dirt, and try again! Javelina Jundred in October is going to be one great party in the desert! I’m registered, my pacer is chosen, and my hotel is booked! Here I come, Western States 2023!

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