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

Michael
Michael

February 18, 2021

Amazing! Congrats and good luck at WSER!

Tracy Schumacher
Tracy Schumacher

February 18, 2021

Very Inspirational. Congrats on your success.

Eliza Klinger
Eliza Klinger

February 18, 2021

I love her joyous and positive attitude! Congrats on an amazing race and journey!!!!

David Zenger
David Zenger

February 18, 2021

Great Job and may the force be with you :)

cynthia l  whipple
cynthia l whipple

February 18, 2021

fast lady!

Michael Michalak
Michael Michalak

February 18, 2021

Way to go! Very Inspiring!

Bing
Bing

February 18, 2021

Congrats, Lisa! Very inspiring story!

Shainalea
Shainalea

February 18, 2021

Great 👍 job!

Vino Guarnieri
Vino Guarnieri

February 18, 2021

Not all Heroes wear capes!!

Joe Lamendola
Joe Lamendola

February 18, 2021

Well Done.

Shane
Shane

February 18, 2021

Congrats on the awesome accomplishment.

David Fisher
David Fisher

February 18, 2021

Lisa, David Fisher here. I am wishing you great luck for your hard work. I can’t wait to see you in first place.

CHRISTOPHER L DOWLLAR
CHRISTOPHER L DOWLLAR

February 18, 2021

no drug better than a runners high.

SaveMeObiWan
SaveMeObiWan

February 18, 2021

Lisa, love your tenacity, spirit, and honest grace: "Decide to flick the switch on the negative self talk and be curious about what you CAN really do.

It will change you forever." Best of luck at Western States! You know we’ll all be pulling for you.

Melinda Anne Yelverton
Melinda Anne Yelverton

February 18, 2021

I cannot wait to see how she does out there in Western States. Truly amazing!!!

Abigail
Abigail

February 18, 2021

Way to go Lisa!! I absolutely love watching athletes transition between sports. Such dedication – can’t wait to see how she does at WS!

Diana H
Diana H

February 18, 2021

Congratulations Lisa!! What an accomplishment, you’re an inspiration to many!! 🏃🏽‍♀️

James Willson
James Willson

February 18, 2021

Now I’m going to have to get a Yoda to go with my Baby Shark…

John S
John S

February 18, 2021

A great example of determination and ability.

Nate
Nate

February 18, 2021

Congratulations

Jimmy
Jimmy

February 18, 2021

The Best!!

Jim Bosik
Jim Bosik

February 18, 2021

Inspire!! Congrats!

Addams
Addams

February 18, 2021

Fantastic entry into the ultra racing top tier. Will be watching at WS100!

Jan Gaskell
Jan Gaskell

February 18, 2021

Lisa, Great Job. You should be really proud of your great accomplishment. GIRLS RULE!

Scott Hedlund
Scott Hedlund

February 18, 2021

Thanks for the update on this story, I’m looking forward to watching how Lisa does in the Western States! Congratulations on your performances and development so far!

Cameron C
Cameron C

February 18, 2021

What an accomplishment. Best wishes to you and your continued success.

Wm Morton
Wm Morton

February 18, 2021

Congratulations. Continued success in all your endeavors

Dawn Marresse
Dawn Marresse

February 18, 2021

You are an inspiration to all women, and I aspire to be as strong as you are some day. :)

Jimmy Malthaner
Jimmy Malthaner

February 18, 2021

Thanks Kogalla for this article, and thank you Lisa Roberts for your inspirational story. With 6 ironman finishes of my own and a shoot for the stars long shot dream of setting a world record in the ironman world. And now journeying into the world of endurance running with my 2nd attempt at an ultra in August ( Bigfoot 200 ). I truly enjoyed reading about your achievements and views. Especially your view on Aiming high. Your wording was perfect. Thank you!

Evelyn
Evelyn

February 18, 2021

You are an inspiration! Congratulations and good luck in your next race! May you reach your goals!

Travis Brewer
Travis Brewer

February 18, 2021

Congratulations

Upton Bowden
Upton Bowden

February 18, 2021

Outstanding!

Tom Foster
Tom Foster

February 18, 2021

Love the story and grit!! You are amazing, best of luck!!!

Jodi Wresh
Jodi Wresh

February 18, 2021

So Amazing! Congratulations!!

Mark
Mark

February 18, 2021

Congrets Lisa,
The Western States are on the top of my list.

Debra Patton
Debra Patton

February 18, 2021

You are amazing!

Trevor Franks
Trevor Franks

February 18, 2021

Watch out for those jumping cacti!
Very Impressive!

Laura Manuel
Laura Manuel

February 18, 2021

Awesome!! We’ll be watching you at Western States! good luck!

Nicole Buurma
Nicole Buurma

February 18, 2021

Impressive run!

Nicole Buurma
Nicole Buurma

February 18, 2021

Impressive run!

Drew Chieda
Drew Chieda

February 18, 2021

Amazing! I can’t wait to see what Lisa does next!

Adam W.
Adam W.

February 18, 2021

Transition complete – congrats!!!! Now use “ the force” to crush some more trails and light them up with Kogalla!

Aaron Saft
Aaron Saft

February 18, 2021

That’s versatility! Love seeing the crossover of sports and the level of success! Congrats and best of luck at Western States! There are 4000+ of us very jealous of you! Enjoy for us!

Laurie Higgins
Laurie Higgins

February 18, 2021

While I was on the shuttle for my Black Canyon start, my husband was texting me updates from the elite wave and was pretty excited to see Baby Yoda out there running too. That’s definitely the most ultra running he’s ever watched while not crewing. Congrats on a fabulous run on a pretty intense course!! Good luck at States!

Linda Alsdorf
Linda Alsdorf

February 18, 2021

Fantastic! You go girls!

Kathy
Kathy

February 18, 2021

Way to go! Best of luck at Western!

Helen
Helen

February 18, 2021

So Awesome! Love the Yoda idea!

Rebecca Vellios
Rebecca Vellios

February 18, 2021

I love that she runs with the baby Yoda in her pack. The force is definitely with her! Good luck at Western States!!

Tim
Tim

February 18, 2021

Wow! That’s amazing!!

Cindy Bowling
Cindy Bowling

February 18, 2021

Congratulations! I enjoyed reading your inspiring story.

Ric Moxley
Ric Moxley

February 18, 2021

“After catching her foot on a rock at mile 40 and experiencing a fall” — and all readers who have trail-raced visibly wince and even gasp. Unnerving drama in a race when that happens! Great story, inspiring stuff.

Joanna
Joanna

February 18, 2021

Way to go! Best of luck at Western States!!

Jeffrey Miller
Jeffrey Miller

February 18, 2021

Good luck at WSER!

Susan Arnold
Susan Arnold

February 18, 2021

Love that it’s not all business and she has fun!

Bill Stahl
Bill Stahl

February 18, 2021

Wow, so awesome!

Kimberly McElroy
Kimberly McElroy

February 18, 2021

Awesome job! I’m hoping to hop from shorter triathlons to more ultra running and her insights are a great tool for me.

Robbin
Robbin

February 18, 2021

Way to go! Keep going…

Rebecca Johnson
Rebecca Johnson

February 18, 2021

Great article. Congrats Lisa! It was awesome to watch the black canyon race live.

Fred Johnson
Fred Johnson

February 18, 2021

Congrat’s !!!! An AMAZING feat !!!!.

Jen Lewis
Jen Lewis

February 18, 2021

Impressive and SO INSP! I’m hoping to race my first ultra this year… :) GOOD LUCK at Western States!

So
So

February 18, 2021

Wow! Amazing. Very inspiring.

Karrie Brimhall
Karrie Brimhall

February 18, 2021

Even though and avid athlete in life, I love that putting yourself in a different arena didn’t deter any effort, goals, and outcome. Way to put it all out there and go for it!!! Well earned spot to Western States, I’ll be cheering!

Andre Lee
Andre Lee

February 18, 2021

Awesomeness! Congrats Lisa! You continue to inspire us all, men and women alike! See you on the trails! 🤙🏾😎🤙🏾

Barry Hopkins
Barry Hopkins

February 18, 2021

Phenomenal athlete going from one sport to the next and accomplishing that much. Impressive to say the least. Congrats.

Darren
Darren

February 18, 2021

Inspirational to say the least… Hoping to race my first Ultra in 2021!

Dan Hurst
Dan Hurst

February 18, 2021

Very impressive. What an amazing athlete. 👍😎

Thomas P
Thomas P

February 18, 2021

Impressive to get that result with so little practical ultra experience. Imagine the improvement when she learns through doing.

Rafael Toscano
Rafael Toscano

February 18, 2021

Would love to walk those trails, i know running is better but to absorb all the beauty of the land you really have to take it slow. Congratulations Lisa, keep up the good work, i know many lots of people feel inspired, i know i do. Thanks!

Lindsay Duggan
Lindsay Duggan

February 18, 2021

You go girl! An inspiration to all
“I don’t want to live in a man’s world anymore”

Lindsay Duggan
Lindsay Duggan

February 18, 2021

You go girl! An inspiration to all
“I don’t want to live in a man’s world anymore”

Jason
Jason

February 18, 2021

Congrats and good luck at Western!

Chris Stout
Chris Stout

February 18, 2021

Great job…huge accomplishment!

Sadeana Steele
Sadeana Steele

February 18, 2021

Congratulations!
Allison
Allison

February 18, 2021

Wow what can’t she do! So incredible and inspiring!!

Su Robertson
Su Robertson

February 18, 2021

We saw Lisa at Big Pine 54k and she was amazing… smiling the whole time. Crushed it this past weekend at Black Canyon 100k (with her little Baby Yoda!!).

Alyssa
Alyssa

February 18, 2021

Love this. So inspirational. So impressive.

Clint
Clint

February 18, 2021

Fantastic evolution in Lisa’s racing; super inspiring too! Thanks for the article

Carl Franzon
Carl Franzon

February 18, 2021

Amazing runner; and she’s a Star Wars fan. Carrying Grogu (aka Baby Yoda) is a stroke of genius and an idea I may borrow for my next ultra. Keep up the good work and may the Force be with you.

Dan Gerlach
Dan Gerlach

February 18, 2021

Congrats Lisa!

Jarrod E Blossom
Jarrod E Blossom

February 18, 2021

Congratulations! What a great story!

Corey Burton
Corey Burton

February 18, 2021

Can’t wait to follow along!!!! Best of luck and congrats on a huge feat!!

Dave Anderson
Dave Anderson

February 18, 2021

Congratulations. What an accomplishment. Wow, keep going.

Lisa
Lisa

February 18, 2021

Woohoo! Amazing! Good luck in June!

Laurie Stone
Laurie Stone

February 18, 2021

Very inspiring!

Matt Romocki
Matt Romocki

February 18, 2021

Congratulations.

Karen Hoover
Karen Hoover

February 18, 2021

A mighty woman! Congrats on the Golden Ticket, sending you winning energy for Western States!

Brad
Brad

February 18, 2021

Amazing accomplishment!

Renee Rousseau
Renee Rousseau

February 18, 2021

Good Luck in June! We’re rooting for you!

Doug
Doug

February 18, 2021

Congrats!

KBo
KBo

February 18, 2021

May the Force be with You! Very impressive accomplishments!!

Casey Nelson
Casey Nelson

February 18, 2021

WOW, congrats!!!

Casey Nelson
Casey Nelson

February 18, 2021

WOW, congrats!!!

Marisol Cortes
Marisol Cortes

February 18, 2021

Lisa, You a true inspiration to all women athletes!, Awesome job!! I can’t wait to follow you at WS. You got this! Strong body and Strong mind :)

ANDY GARDNER
ANDY GARDNER

February 18, 2021

What a great story. Good luck at the big dance!!!

Ana Pattacini
Ana Pattacini

February 18, 2021

What an inspirational story. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to enter this contest for great prizes.

Joseph OSO Bearss
Joseph OSO Bearss

February 18, 2021

Amazing! Can’t wait to cheer you IN PERSON at Western!!! #seeyouatstates

Steve Brown
Steve Brown

February 18, 2021

Congrats on the Golden Ticket!!!

David Mitchell
David Mitchell

February 18, 2021

She got legs .. she know’s how to use ’em ..

Nikol
Nikol

February 18, 2021

Congratulations! Incredible journey!

Corrie Crutchfield
Corrie Crutchfield

February 18, 2021

What an amazing start to your ultra career. Each race will provide a new and unique challenge, which will allow you to continue to approve upon. Can’t wait to see you do great things at Black Canyon and Western States!

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