Savoring the Dance with Shaheen Sattar to a 9th Place Female Finish at the Western States 100: An Adventure Report by Steve Henderson
EB: Shaheen Sattar of Texas ran her first uber-competitive Western States 100 and finished in the highly prized top-10 women with a time of 21:20:49 and 9th place honors. Enjoy as Steve Henderson graciously shares his perspective of this journey as a supporter of many hats – training partner, boyfriend, crew, and pacer.
To start, this is the best race Shaheen has raced to date. Everything about the race went as close to planned and the outcome was more than she was hoping for. Her goals going into the race were from lowest (or easiest to achieve) to hardest.
- Finish under 24 hours
- Finish under 22 hours to have a finish time better than Leadville raced one year ago and a silver buckle.
- Run the first 1/2 of the race conservative. At mile 50 try to be within the top 15 women in the race. Then race as much as possible to crack into the top 10.
I have trained with Shaheen for several years now. I think I’m about as good as anyone to understand what shape she is in and how she’s going to run. I knew she was very fit. She ran double runs two to three days a week in the June heat. Her next day workout, she would bounce back and complete with no complaints. The heat training would paid off.
She attended the training camp the weekend of Memorial weekend. Left Auburn, California that weekend a little worried. I call it a gained respect for the course. So we talked about her race plan after the course viewing and scaled back her first goal to make certain she would walk away Sunday morning feeling like a winner. But I knew if the competitive Stud Muffin that I know showed up, she would do a lot better than 24 hours.
The days before and the morning of the race I sensed a calm Shaheen. Absolutely she was nervous but not scared. I believe she respects the race as well as any runner that competes at the top level in this grueling race. It’s one of her strengths. We arrived early Thursday to a beautiful Lake Tahoe City area. While enjoying the sights in the area, we had some very good food and even scouted for black bears. The closest we got was the Black Bear Cafe with a super tasty breakfast.
It’s 3:15 am race day.
I awake to a terrible alarm sound. Shaheen rises, places on her race day smile and proceeds to go through her pre-race rituals. I posted a cute picture of her eating oatmeal. The face says it all.
She’s at ease and is excited to race. To bring together all the 3:45 am runs each week morning. All the long weekend miles. All the bad workouts, the great workouts and really see what one year has done to create a better Stud Muffin then last year’s runner-up female at the leadville 100.
The weather was perfect. No wind, low humidity, 45 degree morning. It doesn’t get any better and I thought in prayer asking that her race would be blessed with error free, injury free and the best that she could do. What happens next is between her and God – the trail, any obstacle she’d encounter and how she would show character in overcoming those obstacle. I gave her a race pep talk, a big kiss and watched her line up in front with the big boys and girls. The gun went off, she ran uphill into the darkness and out of sight.
And now the hard part of the course begins (for the crew). We would have to wait for 30 miles of running (approximately 6 1/2 hours) before seeing her and find out just how strong a racing Stud Muffin we had this morning.
Results started posting.
At mile 10, Shaheen was 18th place in a pack of four girls. I thought very good, racing just as planned. This course and the weather will tempt the best runners to go out hard. Only to treat them brutally later, making your quads pay dearly in the mid miles for the down hills you enjoyed in the first 30 miles. My girl raced smart so far.
Next, through 16 miles she was in 20th place. In the same pack of ladies all trading places.
Mile 24 her position still a solid 20th place.
Then after the results posted I noticed she was slipping back. Overall, she moved from 97th place to 110 and now 133rd place. 21st female. This was the only time I wondered if she was racing too comfortably. I would hear from her at mile 30, she had fell at mile 10 and rolled her ankle at mile 18. She never considered dropping but thru 30 miles she felt clumsy and not in rhythm. I pushed three Vitamin C tablets into her mouth and pushed her out of the aid station without a kiss, now in 21st place. This was the pivotal point of the race for her. With 30 conservative miles and 15th place no where in sight, she regrouped on her own and began what I call the hunt.
Over the next 15 miles Shaheen began to plot the race she wanted, feeling confident she was ready for the climbs and had trained in the heat. The upcoming challenging canyons would be where she defined what I call “her best” miles. She was regaining ground on the pack that had left her behind. Each time I saw results she had moved up. By mile 35, Shaheen passed 23 runners to move into 20th.
Then at mile 38, she passed another eight runners and moved into 19th place female.
Mile 43, another six runners and another advancement to 18th place female.
At mile 48, once again six more runners yet still in 18th place.
Mile 55 is the second sighting for (us), the crew of the race. I loved seeing this runna girl show up. She was racing and left this aid station in 15th place, right where we talked about and right where she needed to be if a top 10 was possible. Gritty and focused, looking for no comfort, my girl ran up the hill leaving behind an aid station and a very proud crew.
But she had only given us a clue to what was next.
Shaheen would now become the strong soul I’ve grown to love deeply. Hunting for 25 miles in a 100 mile run is not easy. But to hunt for another 45 miles after that is called grueling. She would be human. She would cry, feel like quitting, and she would fall again. She would eventually set it all aside and buckle in tight for the final half of the race.
At mile 61, I laced up and began a large climb with her (my part of pacing). We talked about many things. Going over the first half of the race, checking for body pains, any weaknesses, then planning what we felt was possible for the remainder of the race. I’m the logical one in this union, she is the emotional one – all heart. So I shared what I witnessed with each woman racer ahead of her. I assured her 10th place was hers to go get if she would just put together a solid finish.
We ran with new found energy through a town called Forest hills (seeing a crowd and crew for the last time in the light) and into a field before descending for miles down a rutted rock filled road. A nice quad burn begins and I can’t help but compare/wonder how I feel and how she feels with 60 miles more of running than I at this point. So much appreciation for her fitness and toughness grows with each mile.
I begin to count the runners we pass paying particular attention to any runner that passes us. If they did, I would focus her on passing them back. And the position continued to improve. Through mile 71 we raced into 74th place.
We would pass one runner/friend of Shaheen’s whom she has much respect for. This female runner and her pacer were walking hand-in-hand. Her race was ending at the next aid station. We stopped racing for several moments and walked with them. Offering praise and exchanging hugs. We then returned to our pace and the race continues.
We hit mile 78 just after dark – the river crossing. This is Shaheen’s weakest point in the race. She has a real fear of water. The river is dark and cold with a swift current. She climbs in almost fearless. Against my will, I launch in right after her. The water is so cold it’s a shock to the system. You grab a cable and slowly navigate along the rocky bottom. Most of the time the water is waist high but some rocks are so big you step up to knee high then plunge back into the water. There were green glow sticks at the bottom to assist your sight. By far, the hardest part of the course for her. Fear is an animal you have to face down. She did her best. I was happy she was safe.
For me, this was also the place where I had not done my homework. I was so focused on what was ahead, I hadn’t looked back. As we began the climb up from the river for a mile and a half, we would be passed by a female more determined than we were at this point. Shaheen was in 11th place at the water. Now suddenly she was in 12th.
It wasn’t just getting passed that hurt. It was all the hard work to this point, the very cold water and to be passed while in her strongest part of the race, ” the climbs”. She took it to heart. This other female runner was moving up through the ranks too and she was the stronger runner at this point.
Did I say it was over? Not even close.
Goal #4 was just created. Every time we had a runner pass us, we would focus and press to retake that runner. So it would be second nature for Shaheen to make this a final challenge. If you’re in 4th or 5th, up to 8th place, it might feel safe to know at worst you’ll make top ten, but if you’re 9th through 12 female at this point in the race, not a safe place.
My pacing part was done at mile 85. Shaheen would scamper out of the aid station at Auburn hills alone into the dark. We had climbed into 65th place, 12th place female and the rest she would do alone. I was with an iRunFar tech who came to me and interviewed me about Shaheen. At this point he shared with me that between 9th place and 12th place female (Shaheen), there was 21 minutes of separation. He had been watching the race develop and said the tightest group of runners were between 4th through 6th place males and 9th through 12th places females. All the time we talked my enduring pride for her swelled. Alone she would face and destroy all her demons as she attempted to claim a top ten finish.
It would be 14 miles before I would see Shaheen again for the final 1.5 miles. I witnessed on the stats screen what I knew she was capable of. At mile 93, she clawed into 60th place and into 10th place female. I had told her before I stopped what her overall time would be given three ranges of paces. If she kept the middle pace we were doing at the time, she’d break 22 hours. Top pace and she would take 10th place. She fought to maintain her best possible pace.
Then at mile 98.9, I saw a beautiful sight. My girl asking, “Baby?” (inquiring if it’s me in the dark)
“May I have the last dance Stud Muffin?”, I said.
And we ran through the neighborhood streets to the High School track.
Final time 21:20:49. 54th place. 9th place female. A spectacular podium finish.
I dubbed Shaheen six years ago, Stud Muffin, for her strong-willed, sweet heart ways. Today, she showed me and most of all herself, she’ll bring her best if you call her to a 100 mile race.
– Steve Henderson
Posted on 10 Jul 2014