When we first spoke with endurance athlete Zoë Romano in May for A Day in My Diet, she had just embarked on her inspiring quest to run the entire 2,000-mile distance of the Tour de France to raise money for charity. The run sounded like an epic, if not impossible, undertaking. But after covering an average of 30 miles a day for 10 and a half weeks, facing challenges such as 110-degree heat, massive mountains, and even wild animals, Romano finished the route right on time in Corsica on August 1.
“It still feels surreal,” the Richmond, VA, native says from her family’s home in Maine where she’s been relaxing since returning to America. “The run was such an all-consuming occupation for almost two months that I can’t believe it’s over.” She surpassed her fundraising goal of $150,000, raising more than $167,000 for the World Pediatric Project, which brings medical attention to underprivileged children in third-world countries, and donations are still pouring in.
Her accomplishment attests to the power of perseverance and her amazing athletic ability. “Although I felt physically prepared after training for months at home, there were some aspects I couldn’t have replicated, like running through a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language or getting injured,” she says. In fact, there were some moments when Romano wondered if she’d be able to finish.
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While running through the middle of France, for example, a calf injury sidelined her for two days, plus she had endured weeks of rainy weather. “I went to bed one night feeling defeated and thought about taking more time off or quitting altogether,” she recalls. Fortunately, the next morning, her outlook brightened—literally. “The sun finally came out, my leg felt better, the hotel comped our room and breakfast, and I even found 30 euros [about $40] on the ground,” she says. “In retrospect I probably had to reach that low point so I could build myself up again.”
Along the way, Romano says she felt buoyed by her fans, friends, and family who cheered her on from the U.S. and also credits the emotional and physical support she received from her boyfriend, filmmaker Alexander Kreher, who traveled with her in a van to tape a documentary, for helping her reach her goal. She was also surprised by the support of fellow cyclists who were completing the course unofficially. “Most of the cyclists we met had heard about me, and they were really friendly when we crossed paths,” she says.
One of the highlights of Romano's run occurred during the most strenuous phase: the last climb in the Alps, which ended atop a mountain called Mount Semnoz. “I love having goals, and running up a mountain is such a clear challenge, so when I reached the top I felt such a great sense of accomplishment,” she says. “Afterward I had to run through flat lands for three weeks, and it actually seemed harder because I wasn’t as motivated to reach a goal.”
The final stretch took place as a 90-mile ultramarathon that Romano ran in 24 hours straight. During this last leg, some of her scariest moments occurred, such as encountering a “big, nasty-looking” wild boar lurking in the bushes, seeing many roadside memorials for car accident victims, and suffering a bout of sun poisoning—along with plenty of bruises and aching muscles. “I was pretty beat up by the end, and I was worried that I’d done irreparable damage to my body,” she says. But after recovering, she’s feeling great and is ready to start running again, “just for fun this time,” she says.
Up next for Romano? Another endurance challenge, but one that's more mental than physical: She’s planning to write a book about her adventure.