In Part II we continue chatting with American Ultra-runner Zoe Romano who made history by becoming the first person to run the entire tour de France route in 2013. Part I was published earlier.
Mayur – Was there a time in the run when you struggled to keep going?
Zoe – Around week four or so into the run, it began to rain, and it didn’t stop. It went on for three weeks, and this happened during my run across central France, on a southeast diagonal, and covering a lot of valley and flat farmland. This period came after the Pyrenees and I’d thought that running on flat land after the mountains would be a relief. Instead it was just the opposite.
It was boring and mind-numbing and the relentless monotony of it all made me feel disconnected from my purpose, from Alex, from everyone back home, from everything that mattered. To add to the psychological difficulties, I had the calf injury pop up that forced me to spend a couple days walking for long stretches of road, in the rain. I was miserable and I felt like I was truly losing my mind.
I’ve reread some of what I wrote during that time, and it’s possible I really did lose some grip on reality. About twenty days into this pattern, I had an awful day. My calf hurt, nothing was helping, and I had to walk the entire day. I wasn’t just discouraged, I was angry and felt isolated.
Mayur – You mean you were on the verge of quitting?
Oh yes. About mile 23 I called my Mom and told her how I felt, and she told me I could quit, return home and go back and finish later. Basically, she talked me through quitting, and what that would look like, and sort of gave me permission to do it, or at least follow through in the thought process.
I stopped early for the day, after 25 miles, and Alex found us a hotel nearby. I had an ice bath and did everything I could think of to make my calf heal. I remember we barely spoke that evening, we both understood that things couldn’t get much worse.
Mayur – Did the chat with Mom help?
The next morning, the hotel owners gave us free breakfast and then didn’t charge us for the room! They told us they read our blog and wanted to help us on our journey. They were incredibly kind. Running was the last thing I wanted to do that morning but I put on my lucky shirt that my Mom made me, and went outside to hit the road.
Three miles in, the sun came out, and it never went away after that. The next day I hit the foothills of south-eastern France, and after that was the Mont Ventoux climb, one of the most difficult climbs of the course.
The simple act of kindness by the hotel owners, the sun, and mostly having the mountains ahead of me once more saved me from disappearing into myself.
That talk with my Mom, allowing myself to surrender to the idea of quitting, simply letting myself realize that perhaps quitting was an option, somehow lightened my load and helped me understand I did want to keep going.
Mayur – How difficult it is for a woman (hygiene-wise) to undertake such venture?
Zoe – I didn’t experience any difficulties that I would say were gender-specific, but I also was probably less modest than I – or anyone – would be in normal life. An endeavour like this changes your body as well as your perspective of it. Everything is reduced to one single purpose; keep running.
Every decision you make is based on a desire to serve this purpose. I don’t mean to be indelicate, but if you need a restroom and there is none around, the woods will have to do. If you need a place to change clothes and there’s none, you make do with what you have. In other words, you get resourceful in everything you do when you’re trying to accomplish something that you know is very difficult. You become responsive and subservient to whatever your body tells you. Decorum and modesty were not my primary concerns, keeping my body in top shape to run was.
Mayur – How does one recover from a run like this?
Zoe – Recovering was hard physically and mentally. After dedicating so much time to such a huge purpose, there’s always some sort of inevitable fallout.
A week after France my urge to run was back. However, it took several months before I had any speed in my legs. I got tired easily and would beat myself up thinking, just last month you could run thirty miles every day, what’s wrong with you now
It was hard to stretch and hydrate regularly because it didn’t seem important. Several months after finishing, I hooked up with a coach, and he got me started on a routine that helped me recover. I did VO2 Max workouts with him every Tuesday, a tempo run every Thursday, and a long run every Saturday.
I built up speed and endurance and grew stronger and faster than I’d ever been before. After several months with him I beat my marathon personal record by a whopping 35 minutes.
Mayur – Any similar venture on your mind now? Any plans to visit India?
Zoe – I’d love to visit India! My sister spent much of summer 2013 in India. She was there while I was running the Tour, so I always associate my time in France with her exploration in India. Perhaps a run across India? I do have my eyes on the Great Himalayan Trail. It has a lot of elements I hope for in an adventure – beautiful, challenging, mountainous, cultural aspect. We’ll see.
Mayur – Your inspirations in athletics/endurance? Which female athlete you admire the most and why?
Zoe – I grew up admiring Mia Hamm, the American soccer player. I wanted to go to the Olympics playing soccer and Mia Hamm was on the US National Team as a sixteen-year old. That blows my mind every time I think about it. I also admire Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher. They are always determined to improve and tough. They have grit and are not afraid to speak their mind. They clearly have high standards and expectations from themselves and the lives they create, and that’s something I admire.
I also have a ton of respect for European ultra-runner Kilian Jornet. He’s into running and ski-mountaineering and always plays by his own rules. He clearly has a connection with nature and seems to communicate with forces or feelings that are greater than the sport. When I’m running up mountains I often repeat to myself “What Would Kilian Jornet do?” It always helps.
Mayur – What message would you like to give Indian women with regards to physical fitness and endurance?
Zoe – Running, or exercising, can be all yours. It can be the thing you do that belongs to you, that nobody else can tell you how to do. You can run to be competitive, to feel free, to escape, to get to somewhere else, to stay healthy, to discover.
Running for me has always been play. We can always do more than we think we can and running can be a way to explore that idea. Run or hike or swim or climb for whatever reason makes you feel good that day, and keep going because you never know where that activity or that feeling will bring you.
Mayur – That’s a wonderful message to end with. Thanks a lot, Zoe it was great chatting with you.
Interviewer – Mayuresh Didolkar. Mayur is a marathon runner, a novelist, a financial advisor and a standup comedian!
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