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.


16 Responses

Lisa Roberts
Lisa Roberts

February 03, 2021

Hey all, SUPER BIG thanks for the kudos and messages here. To answer one of the questions, no, I don’t currently use a coach. I’m still “winging it” a bit and may turn to some coaching for help, especially if I get that Golden Ticket!
Super pumped to be out there having fun with you all! 😊🏃‍♀️

Debbie Neil
Debbie Neil

February 03, 2021

Inspirational story! Thanks for sharing! I’m going to follow her for sure! Will be running the JJ 100k for the first time this October. Can’t wait!

Bella Sowers
Bella Sowers

February 03, 2021

Super inspirational! I ran the Javelina Jundred 100k this last year. It was an ass-kicker in the heat of the day. Can’t imagine going out to set a record.

Ryan
Ryan

February 03, 2021

Cant wait for my 100 mile debut, just got the Ra and have done one 4 hr midnight run so far.

Mary Gentry
Mary Gentry

February 03, 2021

She sounds amazing. Does she use a coach? Just did my first ultra can’t imagine doing another one so soon.

Precious Moreland
Precious Moreland

February 03, 2021

Amazing grit and attitude! Inspiring article.

Paul
Paul

February 03, 2021

Amazing results. Great read!

Rusty
Rusty

February 03, 2021

Amazing athlete! Inspiring!

Allison Baca
Allison Baca

February 03, 2021

Awesome!! Best of luck at Black Canyon!!

Jimmy Malthaner
Jimmy Malthaner

February 03, 2021

Awesome! Enjoy reading articles about individuals chasing after and achieving their goals and dreams. Best wishes at Black Canyon 100k and getting an entry into Western States. :-)

Kenny Mayle
Kenny Mayle

February 03, 2021

Truly inspiring watching someone grow in another sport and bring back the excitement that they first found early on!!

Eric Smallwood
Eric Smallwood

February 03, 2021

Awesome story and way to crush adapting and changing! Mental toughness is a trait overlooked by many!

Scott Hedlund
Scott Hedlund

February 03, 2021

Very inspiring story! Good luck on the 13th Lisa!

Victor Titone
Victor Titone

February 03, 2021

Great read and all too relatable situation with the state of events in 2020. Awesome to see Lisa’s accomplishments through these tough times. “aerobic base, mental toughness, staying smart, plugging away and having fun“ – Truths to train and live by!

Ryan Knox
Ryan Knox

February 03, 2021

Love the article! I’m running my first Ultra this year!

Ryan VanBrocklin
Ryan VanBrocklin

February 03, 2021

Wow! Inspirational. Good luck at Black Canyon!

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