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

Jerome Shirley
Jerome Shirley

February 18, 2021

This caught my eye, Lisa carrying a plush ‘Baby Yoda’ on her pack each race. It reminded her a of Star Wars movie

Justin Ryman
Justin Ryman

February 18, 2021

Amazing feat. Congratulations

Faith shelton
Faith shelton

February 18, 2021

LISA! It was amazing watching you out that on that amazing coverage! I can’t wait to see what you do at Western States!! Congratulations!!

Nick Wilson
Nick Wilson

February 18, 2021

This is super inspiring. Going for a run now!

Kathi Taylor
Kathi Taylor

February 18, 2021

a truly inspirational woman, congratulations on your achievement
I need to institute “the force” into my daily routine

Denise Sauriol
Denise Sauriol

February 18, 2021

We all need a Yoda in running and in life. Great article and dose of inspiration in these anything but normal times

Olen
Olen

February 18, 2021

That is freakin awesome!!+ I try to avoid the word “never”, but a man has to know his limitations!😁

Pablo Q
Pablo Q

February 18, 2021

Western States awaits the mentally tough!

Rob Penpek
Rob Penpek

February 18, 2021

Congrats Lisa!

Roger Boughner
Roger Boughner

February 18, 2021

You go girl! Great job!

Scott Bode
Scott Bode

February 18, 2021

Nice!

Danny Moore
Danny Moore

February 18, 2021

I love reading things like this ! I’m new to the ultra world and I’m running my first 50 this fall and planning for my first 100 next spring, these stories are motivating and the light seems awesome and something I think I need.

Darlkene Comeaux
Darlkene Comeaux

February 18, 2021

Congratulations! Well Done!

kathy z
kathy z

February 18, 2021

Way to crush it, Lisa! Keep shooting for the stars!

adam miller
adam miller

February 18, 2021

Very impressive. Congratulations!

Tate Eskew
Tate Eskew

February 18, 2021

Seeing her mention keeping it fun while racing these ultras is a big advantage when the lows inevitably come! Can’t wait to see what she’s able to do at WS. Good luck this season!

ERIC ROLFS
ERIC ROLFS

February 18, 2021

Great insights and an inspiration to continue training for epic goals!

Deserae
Deserae

February 18, 2021

I was pacing at Black Canyon and it was amazing to watch Lisa’s strong race, first on the live stream and then in person as she came through Table Mesa.

Suzanne Favreau
Suzanne Favreau

February 18, 2021

I am in awe of and inspired by Lisa Roberts who set challenging goals, reach them and strive to do more! I love to see positive stories, especially in a time when so much of what we hear is negative. Congratulations!

Frank Ziemski
Frank Ziemski

February 18, 2021

With all the Force be with. Amazing the journey is.

Mallory Billings-Litke
Mallory Billings-Litke

February 18, 2021

What a great article! She is an inspiration. Congrats on the golden ticket!

Bryan
Bryan

February 18, 2021

Congrats what an Epic journey !!

Thomas
Thomas

February 18, 2021

Congratulations. Way to go. Best of luck with all your runs and races.

Sarah K.
Sarah K.

February 18, 2021

Outstanding story! You are truly an inspiration! My daughter and I are rooting for you!

Phyllis Stanley
Phyllis Stanley

February 18, 2021

Amazing, congrats! Just re-inspired by your story!

Erin
Erin

February 18, 2021

This is awesome. Congrats Lisa!

Benjamin Jensen
Benjamin Jensen

February 18, 2021

Way to go! Glad to see races coming back

Josh Pantleo
Josh Pantleo

February 18, 2021

Beast mode! Can’t wait to follow you at Western States!

Rogelio Campos
Rogelio Campos

February 18, 2021

Such an inspiration article! I enjoyed reading this article about her chasing after her goals and dreams. Everything can be achieve with hard work.

Tim Bowers
Tim Bowers

February 18, 2021

Awesome story. Very inspirational.

kathy agate
kathy agate

February 18, 2021

I liked that Lisa made something good with her Covid time and was able to succeed when ready!

Barb Carlson
Barb Carlson

February 18, 2021

You GO girl!!!!!

Mitch Dulleck
Mitch Dulleck

February 18, 2021

Congrats Lisa! And Have Fun at WSER!!👏👏👏

Carri Ward
Carri Ward

February 18, 2021

Wow. I love the baby yoda in the backpack. Good luck reaching for the stars. I have no doubt you will succeed. It is fun to follow along.

Kalyn Cline
Kalyn Cline

February 18, 2021

Congratulations Lisa! Such an inspiration!

Andrea Swift
Andrea Swift

February 18, 2021

Yesssss!!! Congratulations to Lisa!! “Why not shoot for the stars?” I love this saying!! Why not, right?!!

Heather
Heather

February 18, 2021

Great article. The Black Canyon looks beautiful!

Tiffany Fischer
Tiffany Fischer

February 18, 2021

Damn that is an impressive start into ultras and she definitely earned that golden ticket! I love the side story about the yoda on her pack – when people do silly things at races and make others smile it just warms my heart.

Bubba
Bubba

February 18, 2021

Great article and was fun to watch the black canyon race live!

Annie Hall
Annie Hall

February 18, 2021

Incredible!

Kevin
Kevin

February 18, 2021

Come run the White Mountains in NH. You won’t be disappointed. Great job!

Heidi
Heidi

February 18, 2021

So inspiring!

Ryan Funkhouser
Ryan Funkhouser

February 18, 2021

Way to go, Lisa! It’s always so inspiring hearing stories like yours! Keep it up.

Missy Tirpak
Missy Tirpak

February 18, 2021

Nothing but impressive!! Love that she says two major keys to success are plugging away and having fun!!! I agree!!! (Only wish I also had the speed she has!!!)

Whitney Paxton
Whitney Paxton

February 18, 2021

Western States…here she comes! Way to go, Lisa!!

Caleb Henderson
Caleb Henderson

February 17, 2021

Cant wait to see baby yoda make his appearance at western states. Somethin truly amazing about somebody being relatively new to a sport, but absolutely dominatinf; reminiscent of Ryan Miller’s win at Bandera!

Ben Lee
Ben Lee

February 17, 2021

Love it. So inspiring! Not to mention reppin the AZ 🙌

Antoinette Fuentes
Antoinette Fuentes

February 17, 2021

Such an inspiration , my favorite part? I would love to see her Yoda as she flys past me!!

Nathan
Nathan

February 17, 2021

Truly inspirational! I just ran my first 100k at Black Canyon and really surprised myself with a strong result. Seeing her journey gives me a lot of hope in my future in trail racing.

Wyomingrunner
Wyomingrunner

February 17, 2021

Amazing heart and strength.

Sarah_j_runs
Sarah_j_runs

February 17, 2021

Very impressive! Congrats on your accomplishments and future in the ultra world!

Jimmy Malthaner
Jimmy Malthaner

February 17, 2021

Congratulations Lisa! 2nd place in Black Canyon and a Golden ticket to Western States… Fantastic!!! “The Force” is definitely with you and you are definitely a jedi warrior. :-)

Courtney
Courtney

February 17, 2021

Can’t wait to see how you do at Western States Lisa!! Keep it up 💪🏻

Bonnie
Bonnie

February 17, 2021

Love this! Congratulations on a wonderful race!!

Kristy Goss
Kristy Goss

February 17, 2021

Solid secrets to success, congratulations on Black Canyon – best of luck with your training for WSER, will be an exciting race to watch.

Mandie Holmes
Mandie Holmes

February 17, 2021

Shooting for the stars!! Love it!! 🏃‍♀️💪👊

Tim McKenzie
Tim McKenzie

February 17, 2021

Congratulations! Absolutely amazing! 🔥

Scott
Scott

February 17, 2021

Her secret! It comes down to a few simple things: aerobic base, mental toughness, staying smart, plugging away and having fun – and “the force.”

Jon Bohnsack
Jon Bohnsack

February 17, 2021

She is amazing! Impressive versatility

Laura Hall
Laura Hall

February 17, 2021

Very cool article! Suck a great accomplishment. Also- my sister just got a Kogalla, and I’m obsessed. 👏🏻

August Kryger
August Kryger

February 17, 2021

What an amazing athlete! Best of luck in all of your future races and adventures. You’re an inspiration!

Amy Fyfe
Amy Fyfe

February 17, 2021

Inspiring! I might need to get my own yoda, see if it helps my legs get up hills

Amy Fyfe
Amy Fyfe

February 17, 2021

Inspiring! I might need to get my own yoda, see if it helps my legs get up hills

Zachary Friedley
Zachary Friedley

February 17, 2021

This is amazing 🙌🙌

Josh Breffle
Josh Breffle

February 17, 2021

So inspiring!! Great work, Lisa.

Melissa Savage
Melissa Savage

February 17, 2021

Love that she carries the baby yoda!

P. Gacek
P. Gacek

February 17, 2021

Congratulations on your Black Canyon success!

Jannes
Jannes

February 17, 2021

What an amazing achievement

Eric Slaughter
Eric Slaughter

February 17, 2021

What a finish! Fantastic job.

Debbie Tanciatco
Debbie Tanciatco

February 10, 2021

Inspiring. An ultra marathon is on my bucket list and I’ll definitely be following her advice (“aerobic base, mental toughness, staying smart, plugging away and having fun.”)

Ruth Loffi
Ruth Loffi

February 08, 2021

I love how Lisa has evolved through running track, to triathlon to trail! All the time, running has been her constant throughout all the other journeys in her life. I am excited to watch her continued successes … very inspirational!

Rob Simpson
Rob Simpson

February 04, 2021

Can’t wait to see how she does at black canyon next weekend!

Marla Hendrickson
Marla Hendrickson

February 04, 2021

Because I can’t I love reading stories of those who can. She’s amazing.

Douglas B Woods
Douglas B Woods

February 04, 2021

Watching with interest Lisa’s amazing move from Ironman champion to Ultra racing…watch out Ultra runners Baby Yoda is coming for you :).
“This is the Way…”

Jill Wilkins
Jill Wilkins

February 04, 2021

Very inspirational athlete. I cannot wait to see what she does next.

Jill Wilkins
Jill Wilkins

February 04, 2021

Very impressive and inspirational athlete. Can’t wait to see what she does next

Zuzka
Zuzka

February 04, 2021

So impressive! Can’t wait to see you crush it on the trails this year, Lisa 🙂

Brandon McCloy
Brandon McCloy

February 04, 2021

I wish I had half her grit.

Jewel Greiner
Jewel Greiner

February 04, 2021

Great news!

Dan Madsen
Dan Madsen

February 04, 2021

Good Luck!!

Erin
Erin

February 03, 2021

What a fun story! This is just another example of why ultra running is awesome— it’s a sport for everyone. Teachers and landscape architects, professionals and amateurs. We are all out there together! Good luck chasing the golden ticket!

John Wagner
John Wagner

February 03, 2021

Mental toughness & have fun, I like that. Good luck with the Ultra’s, loved following you in Ironman.

Trudy
Trudy

February 03, 2021

Wow! Some amazing performances. I’m just of her mind to plug away and have fun but I’m glad she does more than that too.

Joseph Mendoza
Joseph Mendoza

February 03, 2021

Good Luck! It was great meeting you in Trisutto camp in Conzumel with Brett Sutton.

Steve
Steve

February 03, 2021

So awesome. Big congrats on such a fast time! Can’t wait to see what’s next.

Silver Jade Bohn
Silver Jade Bohn

February 03, 2021

Her raw talent is amazing.

Rob
Rob

February 03, 2021

Amazing!! This is awesome.

Chrissy
Chrissy

February 03, 2021

Yeah Lisa! Amazing results

Caitlin
Caitlin

February 03, 2021

Mental toughness (like she says) is a huge part of the sport!

Tory Savage
Tory Savage

February 03, 2021

Incredible. Good training, mental toughness, be smart and have fun. beat advise I could receive as I train for my 50 miler at squaw peak 50 in June this year!

Andrea Summers
Andrea Summers

February 03, 2021

Incredibly inspiring, especially as a female athlete. I like that shes saying how it is- be smart with your race plans, and that you need a good aerobic base.. but mental toughness is dang important too! Go get it girl!!

Molly Friel
Molly Friel

February 03, 2021

Losa knows the most i.portant rule “have fun!” Good luck Lisa and hello States!

Scott
Scott

February 03, 2021

Awesome story!

Fiona coyle
Fiona coyle

February 03, 2021

I met Lisa last year at a 50km race where she blew the field away, such a great athlete and person! Also love the baby yoda that travels in her pack during her races 🙂

Jeff Klomstad
Jeff Klomstad

February 03, 2021

Awesome story..Aravaipa is the best with the races.

Jay Hawks
Jay Hawks

February 03, 2021

“Aim high and try”. Great for running and great for life. You go Lisa!

René Weis
René Weis

February 03, 2021

What an awesome story! Cheering you on Lisa!

Alek Simpson
Alek Simpson

February 03, 2021

Love to see well educated people doing well in their running and athletic endeavors as well

Chalina
Chalina

February 03, 2021

Great story!!!!

Kellie
Kellie

February 03, 2021

Keep the momentum going!

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