Tessa Chesser rides balance to Western States
(Photo by Craft)
By Henry Howard
Tessa Chesser is a free spirit, balls-to-the-wall, former soccer player who found trail and ultra running the way most of us do. At the same time, she strives to be in balance.
After college, she started running at the urging of a friend. They “messed around with road marathons and half marathons, but never too seriously.” An urge struck Chesser and she wondered about running on the scenic trails where she lived in Asheville, N.C.
About seven years ago she moved to California, where she did her first ultra, the American River 50. “I had no idea what the f--- I was doing. A friend that showed me how to train for a distance like that. I could hardly walk.
There's absolutely no way that I would want to keep doing that, because that was incredibly painful.”
Chesser stopped running.
But then she moved to Flagstaff, Ariz., met some trail runners including Cody Reed and then fell back in love with the sport.
Going all in
Chesser just didn’t return as a hobbyist. She embraced the suck and poured herself all into it. Her background as a soccer player and mental toughness she learned from her dad eased her transition.
“I got a coach and started taking it seriously over the last three years,” she says. “Recently I have just been pretty f---ing motivated. I've just had some success recently, when things have started settling into place. I just am more prepared for what's to come.”
And what’s ahead is the Western States 100 after Chesser claimed a Golden Ticket for her finish at the Javelina Jundred.
So, I ask her, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg, the motivation or the success at ultra running?”
“Oh, wow, that is a good question. I really like the way you prefaced that. If you are successful or if you have a goal or expectation for yourself on what that success look and/or feels like, I guess that's really how motivated you have to be. I mean, to be honest, and so for whatever reason right now, life in Flagstaff, it's just been motivating. I don't know what it was, but I left Mammoth, had some life transitions, got back to Flag and I had fallen in love with her. I just have really fallen in love with her, and right now I definitely have some rose colored glasses on by how things are really making me feel.”
Chesser reflects back to the differences between her first attempt at ultras and where she is now.
“When I was first starting to get back into it, I just started understanding it more,” she says. “I started understanding that when you work and put that level of pain into something, that's f---ing addicting. So then you work harder, but the caveat to all that is balance. I've been able to find a better balance in life. I had it back then, but then there was a moment over the last year and a half, where shit got real out of balance. So being able to find my stride back then and now is what is motivating.
“When we find balance and know when to chill the f--- out, that is what's going to separate craving that motivation again, and making the fire burn for a really long time.”
When she was playing soccer, Chesser had that same fire and balance.
“I was super competitive,” the former defensive back said. “I had the mentality of ‘I'm going to kill them all and let God sort them out.’ That mentality transitions over to running, which is so individualistic in nature. But I think playing team sports and having that experience for my whole essential athletic career, I didn't get all the pounding that all the kids did when they were doing cross country. So I have a bit of an advantage for longevity, which is a really interesting concept.”
That toughness was passed down to Chesser from her father, a motorcycle rider who has broken bones more than a few times.
“He is just the toughest human I know, mentally and physically,” she says. “I looked at him growing up and thought to myself, ‘Goddamn, you are a tough mother---er and I want to be just like that.”
(Photo by Howie Stern)
Javing a ball at Javelina
Javelina Jundred was a true testament of Chesser’s mental toughness and physical strength.
Race day was brutally hot, draining the runners and forcing them to trouble shoot.
“You're consuming electrolytes, drinking this stuff and you're telling yourself not to puke,” she explains. “You're running up hill, you're running out of water, you are hot as f---, you've consumed all these weird citrusy, electrolyte tab things. That's a pretty good low point.”
Chesser puked every 10 to 15 minutes throughout the final two loops.
“There's this photo of me that Howie Stern took at the finish line,” she says. “I have purple stuff running down my chin. The last two laps I was dizzy the whole time.”
It was in those final loops when Chesser pushed hard to get past then hold off Lotti Zeller, who finished fourth about 25 minutes back.
“Lotti is a bone crusher, man,” she says. “I caught Nicole (Bitter) and Lotti on the third loop, but I saw her hammer it down pretty hard. I thought it's way too soon to go with her and I pulled way back. So by the fourth lap I caught her again. She was walking and I just blew by. That's when I knew it was mine because at that point, I was mentally in it.”
‘Everything was aligning’
Earlier this year, Chesser finished top 10 in the Canyons 100K, and did a 45K in Sweden. An Achille’s issue had limited her training and expectations for that race.
“It was driving me nuts and I had just started feeling pretty good, but I hadn't been training a ton,” she. says. “I went out there and I tried and I surprised myself. I'm fitter then I think I am even having this time off. It wasn't anything crazy, but it was still in a 7:21 pace.”
She turned her attention to a 100-mile race, specifically Javelina and its Golden Ticket. After convincing her coach (Terry Howell ) she could do it — after all the race was in only 90 days — she jumped right in.
“Each week just ticked along smoothly,” she says. “I was just logging the miles, hanging out and drinking beer with my friends. I was working during the day. It just was smooth. Probably because of my current joy of Flagstaff, everything was aligning, the sun and the moon aligning."
Chesser had found balance once again.
“It was hard, I'll be honest. I think I missed maybe one or two workouts. It was a good block and I was ready to roll.”
Chilling and balancing
So it is on to Western States next June for Chesser. While the race is a long way off, she says it “feels
pretty cool and motivating.”
For now, she’s focusing on maintaining her fitness with chill miles while letting her mind and body relax. No other races are on the calendar yet, but she will look for ones that will help her build to Western.
After all, what’s important to Chesser is balance.
Name: Tessa Chesser
Hometown: Phoenix, Ariz.
Number of years running: 5ish
How many miles a week do you typically run: 65 to 85
Point of pride: “How magical our bodies are to take us to see some pretty amazing things.”
Favorite race distance: “All honestly, they are each so different.’
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: “Keep it simple ... rice veggies chicken.”
Favorite piece of gear: craft ctm ultra shoes
Who inspires you: Bruce Lee, my pop, Tommy Rivers
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: smino backstage pass
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: “You can do this.”
Where can other runners connect or follow you: Instagram: @tessachessa