When she arrived at Boise State from her hometown of Corvallis, Mont., Sadi Henderson wrote her running goals on a small notecard and hung them on her wall.
At the top of the list? Running a 2:06 in the 800 meters.
Henderson, now a redshirt sophomore who runs track and cross country for the Broncos, said a bigger deal than the adjustment of moving from a town of 976 to a city of more than 214,000 was her dream of being among the elite 800-meter runners in the nation.
Given that she came to Boise running a 2:24 and maxed out at a 2:09.63 a season ago, it perhaps seemed unlikely she would get there soon.
But the 2017 NCAA Outdoor Championships begin in Eugene, Ore., this week, and Henderson will race with the nation’s best Thursday evening, her 800 time down to a school-record 2:03.91. She owns the 18th-best time in the country and is the first 800 runner to qualify in program history. Henderson is also the first middle-distance runner to represent Boise State at the NCAA Outdoors since 1997. She will be joined at the championships by teammates Allie Ostrander (steeplechase, 5,000 meters) and Clare O’Brien (5,000 meters).
What a difference a year and a specialized middle-distance coach can make.
“It felt so distant. I was watching people run those times and I just felt like it was something I would never be able to achieve,” said Henderson, who won both the 2017 indoor and outdoor Mountain West championships in the 800 and earned her spot here by running the second-fastest time at last month’s West preliminaries. “Running a 2:09 last year, it felt like I was topping out. I was doing my best, but I didn’t realize I hadn’t unlocked this whole other area of potential.”
Henderson ran the 100, 200 and 400 in high school, in addition to cross country. She had never specialized in the 800 before arriving at Boise State. Even then, she still kind of felt misplaced.
“I was on one side of the spectrum (with sprints) and then the other side of the spectrum,” Henderson said. “They didn’t really know what to do with me. I started off with cross country and (head coach Corey) Ihmels’ 10K training.”
Ihmels hired Pat McCurry to be his middle-distance coach. In Henderson, he saw untapped potential. She had the rare combination of speed and endurance that doesn’t come around very often; she just didn’t know how to best use her gifts.
“She’s a true 800-meter runner. A lot of people run the 800, but to be really great at it you have to be fast, you have to have great sprint speed. She does,” McCurry said. “She has that kind of speed and anaerobic capacity, but she also has great aerobic endurance. And that’s hard to find.”
McCurry revamped Henderson’s workouts. He implored her to focus on details rather than on broader strokes. Instead of practicing sprints or long runs, she would now do 800-specific workouts.
“From the ground up (he changed things). His philosophy is different. He pays a lot of attention to all of the little details,” Henderson said. “His training is really specific to my skill set.”
Improvements like Henderson’s don’t happen overnight. And they didn’t, according to Ihmels.
“She’s worked extremely hard over the last couple years and has finally gotten to a point where she’s mature enough and finally able to make the strides,” Ihmels said. “She’s got a chance to get to the (NCAA) final and do really well.”
As she heads to TrackTown, USA, with everything on the line, Henderson is determined not to be overwhelmed. She made it to nationals in the indoor season but was taken aback once she got to the championships.
She is also focusing on one of the other goals she wrote on that notecard three years ago. In addition to breaking 2:06 in the 800, she wanted to help create a culture of family within the Boise State track and field program. As she heads to Eugene with teammates and coaches, it’s clear that goal is being met, too.
Her coaches can’t say enough great things about her and her impact.
“There’s nobody more deserving. She’s a great representative of the program and the university,” McCurry said. “(She’s) been fun to coach.”