Vail woman runs her one-and-only marathon in Antarctica

Karen Lupis, of Vail, ran her first — and she says only — marathon in Antarctica earlier this month.
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Vail’s Karen Lupis ran her one and only marathon in Antarctica, because nothing tops running at the bottom of the world.

“This is my first and last marathon,” Lupis said smiling.

And how did Lupis end up in Antarctica? We’re glad you asked.

Southbound sensation

She’s an East Coast native and lived a decade or so in Philadelphia. In 2013, she decided to move to Vail.

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Her parents moved to Fort Collins to be close to her sister, brother-in-law and their children. Lupis decided she’d head to the High Country.

“I picked my favorite ski town,” she said.

One of her Philly friends, Taylor Gill, is a hard core ultra athlete: Ironman triathlons, ultra marathons — that sort of thing.

Gill wanted to run a marathon on each of the seven continents, a trail she’s still on. She started that quest in Africa and continued earlier this month in Antarctica.

Gill invited Lupis to join her in Antarctica, which was right in Lupis’ adventure-loving wheelhouse. Antarctica was Lupis’ seventh continent to visit.

Gill started plotting in 2012, and Marathon Tours — the Boston company that makes this sort of thing happen — had a four-year waiting list.

Last year, Marathon Tours started using two ships instead of one to process people faster. Gill visited Lupis in Vail last March. In between skiing and snowshoeing adventures, she mentioned her Antarctica trip would likely get bumped up to 2015 and there would be an open spot in their group. Lupis knew she wanted to go to Antarctica and figured she had plenty of time to train.

Then an opening popped up in early summer, and they grabbed it.

“We’re told you need to train seriously for four months before you try a marathon,” Lupis said.

Marathon training is pretty much a bunch of running. Lupis has always been an athlete, lives in Vail and loves to ski, so the training came naturally.

“I cross trained with skiing as much as I could. When it comes to running, I ended up being at no risk of overtraining” she said.

She mapped out a training schedule and nutrition plan, and got going … for a little while.

On Day 3, she rolled her ankle during a trail run. Then she aggravated an old hamstring injury. Then she had back pain from limping around on the bum ankle and hamstring. A month before the trip she hobbled into Vail Integrative Medical Group, where her instructions were clear.

“Please make it stop hurting!” she told them.

She ran six miles more or less pain free and seemed fine. She followed that with four miles coupled with a half-day of skiing.

“I figured that counts as seven or eight miles, and I could at least get through the half marathon,” she said.

Then it was time to head as far south as you can head before you start heading back north.

The Marathon Tours group flew to South America. They boarded two ships, March 5 and 6, and spent three days steaming south across the Drake Passage before arriving at King George Island.

Another company flies directly to Antarctica, you run your marathon, get back on the plane and leave.

“We had spent three days on a boat together, and the group got real tight,” Lupis said. Plus, Lupis was most excited for the expeditions on the days in Antarctica before and after marathon day.

Marathon Day

The race course is six loops, all hilly, muddy and windy. It’s the end of summer in Antarctica and race day was an overcast 32 degrees.

On that fourth loop, once Lupis decided to go for the full marathon, things got a little more serious. A few flurries fell and the wind gusts picked up to 30 mph.

“We’d chat and high-five people along the way. Seeing Taylor, (her sister) Jordan and my new shipmate friends along the route made it a more enjoyable experience,” Lupis said.

The race director’s advice was uncomplicated and sensible.

“Put one foot in front of the other, and keep breathing,” he said.

And so she did.

Their supporters had to tape their placards to their mittens to keep them from blowing away.

She listened to the Serial podcast on her iPod while she was running. She didn’t get all the way through it and still needs to listen to the last bits. Do not, under any circumstances, tell her how it turns out.

Eventually, everyone who meant to finished the race.

Aside from the Marathon Tours staff, Taylor and Jordan’s mom and step-dad were the sole supporters at the finish line. They were dedicated cheerleaders and also made sure everyone was bundled up when they finished. Lupis and several others accepted a gracious offer to ride an ATV down to the zodiac boats that returned them back to the ship.

“Twenty-six-point-two miles was quite enough,” she said.

Polar Plunge

The race was finished, but the adventure wasn’t over. The Russian crew aboard the Vavilov and the staff of One Oceans Expeditions provided the group with a not-soon-to-be-forgotten experience around the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands.

Stuffing exhausted legs into a sea kayak the day after a marathon might not be the best timing, but it’s not like they could catch it next time.

They sea kayaked with seals and humpback whales, slid down snow and ice sheets with penguins, took the Polar Plunge — a swim in iceberg laden Antarctic waters — and shaved clear ice off 10,000 year old glaciers. The bartenders poured cocktails over it – 12 year old Scotch – as they raised a glass to a wonderful adventure.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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