February 02, 2021 316 Comments

It was mid-August, 2020 and Lisa Roberts found herself setting up camp in Flagstaff, Arizona, waiting to hear the news. With races being cancelled right and left due to the 2020 pandemic, there was still a chance that this one would be good to go. It was the Flagstaff Extreme Big Pine 54K, and it would be Roberts’ first ultra-distance race.

Lisa Roberts running through the Tuscon, Arizona dessert.
Roberts at home running through the dessert in Tuscon, Arizona. - P.C. Kevin Scott

For several weeks, the Tucson, Arizona native waited as she acclimated to the nearly 7,000 feet of elevation. The wait would pay off, when the race was given an official date of September 5. The payoff would be more than just completing her first ultra-distance race, but winning the race outright in a new course record time of 4 hours 51 minutes and 11 seconds. “The race went pretty smoothly, especially for my first ultra,” she said.

One might look at this as a fluke or beginner’s luck, but Roberts is no beginner to the sport of running.

Not a Fluke

Roberts has been an athlete most of her life, with running being her first love. In fact, she was a track and cross country athlete at Southern Illinois University, specializing in the 1500 - and 3,000 meters. Several years passed, and she earned a Master’s Degree and began a career as a landscape architect. However, her yearning to compete never left her, and she began to feel the itch to get back out there and train — this time in the world of triathlon.

Lisa Roberts at finish after winning the 2017 Ironman Cozumel, her third Ironman victory in three months.
Lisa wins the 2017 Ironman Cozumel, her third Ironman victory in three months. - P.C. Talbot Cox

Her competitive running background proved to be extremely beneficial, as by 2009, she was able to earn the title as professional triathlete. “When I told my colleagues at work that I was going to transition to professional athlete, and do this full-time, they were all so supportive,” she said. “It has been a ride, but a great one!”

Getting the Ultra Bug

After the big win in Flagstaff, Roberts decided to keep the momentum going. Next on the list was the Javelina Jundred 100k, which takes runners 100 kilometers through the McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Fountain Hills, Arizona.

"I probably carried too much with me …"

This race was held the following month, and would nearly double the distance of her previous one. But that didn't stop Roberts from coming in first place female and second place overall. Not only that, but her performance on that October day would be merely eight minutes from a course record, putting her in the record books as the second best performance in Javelina Jundred jistory!

Lisa Roberts outside the Javelina Jundred Rattle Snake Ranch aid station.
Outside the Javelina Jundred Rattle Snake Ranch aid station.

“I brought EVERY piece of running equipment and food I could think of,” Roberts wrote in a social media post. “I probably carried too much with me … I probably should've done many things differently, but that’s the process, right? You aim high, you try, you experience, you screw up, you learn … you get a buckle, you make memories and friends along the way."

"Then, even though you swear you’ll never do it again, you sign up for another!”

And she did. Just six weeks later on December 19, 2020, Roberts ran the Cave Creek Thriller 50K in Cave Creek, Arizona. Once again, she was first overall female, and came in second behind the first place male finisher. Her time of 4 hours 25 minutes, 45 seconds was good enough for a course record by 43 minutes!

In each of her ultra-distance races up until this point, Roberts finished well ahead of other male competitors, and said she knew it was in part due to fewer athletes competing during the pandemic. That being said, she said she looked forward to racing with other females to get the feel of what it was like to battle for position in an ultra distance event. That event would be the Black Canyon 100K that took place on February 13.

Lisa Roberts holding the Western States golden ticket after taking second at Aravaipa Running Black Canyon Ultras, Black Canyon, AZ
Lisa with Black Canyon behind her and Western States front and center.

“Going into this race, I knew the field was deep,” Roberts said. “There were two Nike Trail Team runners who I knew were competitive, and from the beginning, showed that they were. For the first 40 miles of the race, I was in a back and forth with three other women, and it felt good to race with and see where I stacked up against them.”

And stack against them she did. At the 50K mark, Roberts came in 20 minutes under her fastest stand alone 50K. After catching her foot on a rock at mile 40 and experiencing a fall, she picked herself right back up, and pressed forward toward second place. She was able to hold on to that position through the final and very difficult 10 miles to not only secure her spot on the podium, but earn the coveted ticket to Western States.

What is Her Secret?

There must be a secret to success, if success is a continued result, right? Well, if you would ask Roberts, it comes down to a few simple things: aerobic base, mental toughness, staying smart, plugging away and having fun - and "the force."

Lisa Roberts Chewing up some miles at Switzerland's 2019 Challenge Davos triathlon.
Chewing up some miles at Switzerland's 2019 Challenge Davos triathlon. - P.C. Alpha Photo

“I have a really good aerobic base that I know has carried over, and I’ve learned the importance of mental toughness as an athlete,” she said. “Other than that, it comes down to being smart about your training and race plans, continuing to plug away when things get hard, and making sure to have fun!”

Part of that fun is carrying a plush 'Baby Yoda' on her pack each race. “I was doing a mountain run that was part of an adventure race in the forests in New Zealand,” she recalled. “When I was in the forest, it reminded me of the time in one of the ‘Star Wars’ movies when Luke Skywalker is doing Jedi training in the forest with Yoda on his back. It was then when I thought that I should get a Yoda and put it on my pack. I found a plush Baby Yoda, and carry it on my pack. It makes people smile, is a great conversation starter, and it doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of ‘the force’ with you.”

What’s Next?

Having secured a spot at Western States in June, Roberts says her training will be mostly geared toward that, with a few other tune up races in the mix to keep her in racing shape.

“Why not shoot for the stars?”

“Why not shoot for the stars?” she said. “Western states is the pinnacle of ultra-running, and I want to be there.”

Lisa Roberts 2015 running through desert at team photo shoot in Tucson, AZ
Lisa 'posing' at 2015 team photoshoot in Tucson, AZ. - P.C. Kevin Scott

Kogalla loves the determination and grit that permeates the ultrarunning community, and is excited to be supporting Roberts in her climb to the top.

To keep updated on her future races and achievements, Roberts can be found @run_jedi_run on Instagram.

Article author Arianne Brown is a mom of nine and a lifelong runner competing in anything from 5K to 50-mile races. She loves the written word, and using it to share stories the world needs to hear. For more of he writings, follow A Mother's Write on Facebook, and @ariannebrown on Instagram.


100 Responses

Tina
Tina

February 24, 2021

Motivational!

Angela Parrish
Angela Parrish

February 24, 2021

way to go!

Dave Hawkins
Dave Hawkins

February 24, 2021

Inspiring!

rms
rms

February 24, 2021

Very good!

Piers Dylan
Piers Dylan

February 24, 2021

What an accomplishment!

EllaKay
EllaKay

February 24, 2021

Awesome accomplishment!

A. Huntoon
A. Huntoon

February 24, 2021

Congratulations! Wishing you every Success as you lead they way into new ultra racing frontiers!

Britt
Britt

February 24, 2021

Cool to read her back story. Thanks!

Linda Hurley
Linda Hurley

February 24, 2021

What an amazing story! You can’t go wrong with an Aravaipa race. Good luck at Western States!

DebbieSue Fleck
DebbieSue Fleck

February 24, 2021

Amazing young lady!!! Determined and an inspiration. Good luck Lisa!!!

Raina
Raina

February 23, 2021

Awesome. I’m a recreational runner and I love road racing, and love reading stories like this! Congrats and good luck, Lisa!

Dan Smith
Dan Smith

February 23, 2021

I was actually watching the great drone coverage online for the Black Canyon race. It was great watching Lisa do so well. Congratulations to her on all of her recent accomplishments!

bob
bob

February 23, 2021

well well well

meg cullings
meg cullings

February 23, 2021

Super inspiring!!! Still recovering from an embarrassing face plant in the snow & feeling like I don’t know when I’ll run again. Good to have such legends to inspire,& give other runners hope!

veronica sandberg
veronica sandberg

February 23, 2021

Its amazing what she is able to do.

cheryl sanford
cheryl sanford

February 23, 2021

Such a great article! You get the runners high reading it. Being a triathlete transitioning to ultras myself, it is great to be inspired and motivated by Lisa and her racing. So awesome that she got that coveted GOLDEN ticket! Congrats to you Lisa, I look forward to watching your WST race.

KellyDawn Harz
KellyDawn Harz

February 23, 2021

You can “hear” in the article how very much she loves to run and it shows in her success! Pushing the distance with each race and loving the journey. Excited for her to get to compete at Western States :)

Rachel
Rachel

February 23, 2021

Thank you for the major motivation, Lisa. You are my inspiration to get out of this pandemic funk! You rock!

Danyeall Williams
Danyeall Williams

February 23, 2021

You Go Girl!!! Who Run The World? GIRLS (In My Beyoncé Voice)

Audrey Stewart
Audrey Stewart

February 23, 2021

You are such an inspiration to others. I am so happy you won! I will continue to follow your career, since I know this is much more than a hobby. Keep me posted on your next race. I get a kick out of living vicariously through you. If you have a newsletter please subscribe me. (jozywails@gmail.com)

darrell julius
darrell julius

February 23, 2021

Very cool!

Stacy
Stacy

February 23, 2021

I love..“you screw up , you learn…you get a buckle.” What a great way to keep perspective!

michael mccallion
michael mccallion

February 23, 2021

Great article, even a professional athlete learns new tricks when they moved from their sport to Ultra running. carrying to much on race day. Always on my own mind. We train carrying everything we will need for that day, on race day we have water stops every 5-10 mile and we middle of teh pack people still carry to much when we watch videos of the elites running unencumbered with bulging packs. Well done on the golden ticket Lisa. Having run the course 2021 myself and how tough that course is I know you are a gifted athlete. congrats again

Shawn Stover
Shawn Stover

February 23, 2021

Wow, congratulations…great job!

Jacob Potter
Jacob Potter

February 23, 2021

Great to see consistency and hard work pay off!

Moira Flannery
Moira Flannery

February 23, 2021

Nice work!!! Congrats on your golden ticket!! Will be cheering you on in June. Fingers crossed race happens.

Billy Oliver
Billy Oliver

February 23, 2021

Lisa is the real deal. Don’t be fooled by her newness to ultra running.

Kim B
Kim B

February 23, 2021

Such amazing effort and drive!

John Becker
John Becker

February 23, 2021

Great article about an athlete discovering ultras!

Jim R
Jim R

February 23, 2021

Another elite athlete finds their way to the world of Ultra Running and kicks butt – outstanding. I can’t wait to see Lisa at Western States.

Jason
Jason

February 23, 2021

Congratulations. I can’t even imagine attempting such things, let alone succeeding.

Cassandra D
Cassandra D

February 23, 2021

Such an inspiration with wonderful motivation.

Leif Eriksen
Leif Eriksen

February 23, 2021

Congratulations! I think we can all use a little of “the force” in our running. ;-)

Brittany Gilley
Brittany Gilley

February 23, 2021

what an inspiration!

C Conte
C Conte

February 23, 2021

Wonderful story! Good luck with your races! Nice to read something positive during these times and see some folks having a great time! Thank you Kogalla for presenting this to us!

Ray Waldrop
Ray Waldrop

February 23, 2021

congrats

Thomas Bowling
Thomas Bowling

February 23, 2021

Congratulations on your impressive entrance to the ultra running scene! I look forward to following your race at WS100 & future events!

Landon
Landon

February 23, 2021

It is amazing what a lot of hard work will do.

Timothy Bivins
Timothy Bivins

February 23, 2021

Amazing 🤩

Patrick
Patrick

February 23, 2021

Can’t wait to see what Western States holds?!?!?

Jean F
Jean F

February 23, 2021

I am admire what Lisa is doing though I find it an unusual career choice.

Autumn
Autumn

February 23, 2021

Congrats on your entry into WS100. Inspirational story, plus "
baby yoda" adds cuteness to strength. :-)

Melanie Stolz
Melanie Stolz

February 23, 2021

Wow! You are an awesome inspiration to never give up! I love that you took Baby Yoda with you! My grandson age 12 loves him. I try to teach him not to give up – his father died when he was 8 and he is in a very negative family situation. Best of luck to you in all your runs!

Jeff Goodmanson
Jeff Goodmanson

February 23, 2021

Wow! Great job Lisa! I hope to get in Western States myself one of these years!

Brenda Haines
Brenda Haines

February 23, 2021

What an amazing accomplishment! Talk about GOALS!

Susan Haag
Susan Haag

February 23, 2021

Outstanding achievement! I was in Cozzie with you! Congratulations!!

Jeremy K.
Jeremy K.

February 23, 2021

Just amazing and inspiring to see… good luck at Western States, you’ve got a ton of new fans cheering for you!

Angela Hendricks
Angela Hendricks

February 23, 2021

Congrats!!! Such an awesome and inspiring story!

Karen Clark
Karen Clark

February 23, 2021

It’s so inspiring to see that she can stay focused and yet still have fun. She is definitely a force.

David Granatstein
David Granatstein

February 23, 2021

I love the passion. This was the story I needed to read now!

Juan Molina
Juan Molina

February 23, 2021

Congratulations and best wishes!

Ward Pettenger
Ward Pettenger

February 23, 2021

Can’t wait too see Baby Yoda on the track in Auburn for the first time!

Stephen Gaetke
Stephen Gaetke

February 21, 2021

Such an inspiring story and looking forward to following the WS100 event!

Josh
Josh

February 20, 2021

Congrats! So exciting!

Melissa Trexell
Melissa Trexell

February 20, 2021

What an inspiration! You keep up the wonderful progress :D

Chris
Chris

February 20, 2021

Impressive!

Les Apedoe
Les Apedoe

February 20, 2021

Tremendous 1st results. Congratulations

JEAN-PIERRE
JEAN-PIERRE

February 20, 2021

Absolutely amazing. That is an accomplishment I would love to have.

William Daniel
William Daniel

February 20, 2021

Good Go Girl! My legs are cramping just reading this article. Can’t imagine how all the factors of finishing much less winning such tribulations. Joy, relief, cramps, heart pounding, lungs trying to drop back to normal patterns, “I think I can. I think I can. God Damn! I did it!”

Danette Schweers
Danette Schweers

February 19, 2021

So inspiring! I can’t wait to see what she does next.

sarah ter har
sarah ter har

February 19, 2021

Great job!!! keep going and thanks for the inspiration!!

Jyoti
Jyoti

February 19, 2021

This is so inspirational, keeps the flame in me burning till I’m ready to run the miles again. Hats off to her !

Ann Shearing
Ann Shearing

February 19, 2021

Great to read your story. I’m not a runner but am married to one. We are familiar with Arizona and watched on streaming your race. Amazing. You are an inspiration in many areas not just running. Keep going and above it all, Have Fun.

Eliza Reyes
Eliza Reyes

February 19, 2021

The Force runs deep in this one.

Trina Rowe
Trina Rowe

February 19, 2021

I’m more tortoise than hare when it comes to races but watching people like Lisa succeed is what keeps me excited about the sport! It’s fun to even be near such epicness!

Jose
Jose

February 19, 2021

Inspirational to say the least, your an amazing athlete.

William D
William D

February 19, 2021

Run Lisa Run!

Katie VanDorp
Katie VanDorp

February 19, 2021

I love reading these stories when I’m working towards longer miles again:) So inspiring.

Harold Kennedy III
Harold Kennedy III

February 19, 2021

I streamed the race and was absolutely blown away by your performance! Stay safe and injury free so you can kill Western States!

Steven Cook
Steven Cook

February 19, 2021

You are inspiring! Enjoy Western States, you will crush it!

John d
John d

February 19, 2021

Really great times and accomplishments and looking forward to hearing about the success in finishing the Western States.

Stacie
Stacie

February 19, 2021

Congratulations to Lisa! How inspiring.

Makinsie Bartholomew
Makinsie Bartholomew

February 19, 2021

Congrats Lisa! You’re amazing!

Cecil Vermule
Cecil Vermule

February 19, 2021

Transitioning from a full-time career to a pro athlete was probably a scary journey. I am glad to see that it is working out for you. Congratulations on the success!

Candace Renee Kemp
Candace Renee Kemp

February 19, 2021

Awesome! Such amazing achievements!

Kurt
Kurt

February 19, 2021

A true inspiration, way to go!

Steve Webb
Steve Webb

February 19, 2021

Huge win!Congratulations

Thomas Yoste
Thomas Yoste

February 19, 2021

Way to go!

Mary D
Mary D

February 19, 2021

Congratulations!

Cindy Hargis
Cindy Hargis

February 19, 2021

Congratulations! You are very inspiring! And I love how you carried baby Yoda with you. Shows that you do have a fun side to you 💜

Betsy
Betsy

February 19, 2021

So inspiring! May the force always be with you!

John Householder
John Householder

February 19, 2021

American badass!

Paul Diesel
Paul Diesel

February 18, 2021

Congratulations Lisa! I love being a part of a community that’s so driven and inspirational

dan glatt
dan glatt

February 18, 2021

inspiring and amazing endurance! congrats!

Craig
Craig

February 18, 2021

My granddaughter follows her journey thus I was aware of her accomplishments awhile back. The only thing I will add is that if I were young once again and had the will to run as she does….I would want to be like her….fast, dedicated and never lacking will power

Melanie Fry
Melanie Fry

February 18, 2021

What an inspiring athlete!

Rebecca S
Rebecca S

February 18, 2021

Congratulations!

Paul Haddock
Paul Haddock

February 18, 2021

Dedicated and driven

Amy
Amy

February 18, 2021

Wow, this is so great – solid performance and attitude! Thanks for setting a positive example… congrats!!

Phil Penner
Phil Penner

February 18, 2021

Congrats Lisa!!

Adam W
Adam W

February 18, 2021

Saw that baby Yoda at black canyon… soon cool and way to keep the right mindset!

Sandi Malone
Sandi Malone

February 18, 2021

Congratulations!! What an accomplishment!! You are an inspiration to many!

Christine Crosby
Christine Crosby

February 18, 2021

You rock!

David Holm
David Holm

February 18, 2021

God goes before!

Amanda
Amanda

February 18, 2021

Way to grab a hold of the edge and inspire all of us!

Craig Ashley
Craig Ashley

February 18, 2021

Impressive

Tom Ohlman
Tom Ohlman

February 18, 2021

Congrats Lisa!!

Michael G.
Michael G.

February 18, 2021

What an amazing & inspiring journey! Such a wonderful story. Thanks so much!

april vogel
april vogel

February 18, 2021

Inspiring – I need to set some goals and get more aerobic exercise.

Sherri Hoffman
Sherri Hoffman

February 18, 2021

What a great story Lisa has had so far, and congratulations are definitely in order! A wonderful source of inspiration (for those newer to the ultra running distances as well)…those are always needed and much appreciated.

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