The three most exciting and dreaded words in the world of endurance are Tour De France. This 3500 km (over 2000 miles) race demands nothing short of super-human capacity to suffer coupled with immaculate preparations by the cyclists. A prominent cyclist once described TDF as an exercise in self-abuse.
Now imagine covering the same distance on foot, with just one friend acting as your support car driver, videographer and tour manager.
American ultra-runner Zoe Romano did exactly that from May 18th to August 2nd 2013. This Spanish and International Studies Graduate from University of Richmond ran the 2000 miles distance at an average of 30 miles per day, taking every 9th day off. Zoe managed to raise over 200,000USD for the World Paediatric project in this run.
Sportsjoy’s Mayur Didolkar caught up with Zoe to take our readers through this incredible experience. Read PART I of the interview here –
Mayur – Zoe, we know you are from Portland. Tell us a little about your childhood. Were you an athletic child in school?
Zoe – I grew up playing outdoors and participated in soccer and swimming in school. I wanted to go to college to play soccer, and dreamed of going to the Olympics as a central midfielder. I hated running as an organized sport, although I ran around plenty on the field.
Maine is a state where outdoor recreation is always at hand. My parents raised us to be comfortable and curious outside. I grew up camping, hiking, swimming, playing in the woods behind my house; whatever got us out of the house!
Mayur – What was your motivation to take up long distance running?
Zoe – I started running while I was backpacking through Europe when I was 19. My friend and I didn’t have much time or money in each city so we decided to simply run to all of the sights we wanted to see.
Incidentally, the first time I ever ran more than a few miles was in Paris, our first stop on that backpacking trip. We continued all through Italy and Greece in that manner, and when I got home that summer I realised running had become a part of me.
That fall I ran more seriously once I was back at college, and discovered a whole network of trails by the James River in Virginia, just a mile or so from my campus. In a matter of weeks running became something I had to do or I would feel very unsettled and cranky.
Mayur – How did your first full marathon go?
Zoe – I ran my first half marathon that fall, but didn’t run my first marathon until over a year later. By that time I’d been training at marathon distance for a long time – I’d wake up on Saturdays, take off from the campus, and be gone all day along the river, logging 20 – 30 miles. The idea of running in a marathon was perhaps not a big goal since running was mostly something I did for fun and fulfilment rather than competition. Also as a student living on college budget and without a car, I struggled with logistics for races.
My first marathon was amazing since my parents came down from Maine to cheer me on. The race was through the foothills in western Virginia, and it turned out to be a very hot day, much hotter than normal.
At one point as we were running by a horse farm, the horses started galloping alongside us! That was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a runner. My lack of experience at competing showed though. I didn’t drink enough water, got awful cramps at mile 23, and wanted to crawl in a bag of ice when I finished.
Mayur – Tell us about the idea of running TDF? How did this idea come to you?
Zoe – I ran across the US in 2011 and was eager to do something more challenging. There were a few ideas which got tossed out – run the perimeter of Iceland, re-run the US, a long distance roller blade trip. The rollerblading might still happen, but the other two ideas seemed too manageable.
Tour de France seemed the hardest sporting event I could think of trying to do as a runner. I googled it the first night I had the idea, and discovered it had never been run, and that it was harder than I thought but logistically possible. I was hooked from that moment.
Mayur – What kind of preparation is needed before embarking on such venture?
Zoe – I began training in December with only about 6 miles per day, six days a week. Each week I increased my mileage by 10%, and every fourth week I took a recovery week. This preparation was very systematic and methodical. It was one thing about the lead-up that I was absolutely adamant about.
I also spent several hours stretching and foam rolling every day, especially towards the end of training when my mileage got much higher. For me, sleep was and still is a very, very important part of recovering and staying strong.
Mayur – Tell us about the role your friend Alexander Kreher played in the run.
Zoe – Alex was an incredible partner in the run. He was my one-man support team and a one-man film crew, and he managed to play both those roles very well while keeping me motivated.
During the middle part we both got a little bored and discouraged, and that was hard – it’s hard to escape the fact of feeling low morale when even your support person has got the blues. But overall, it would have been extremely difficult to do this run without him, probably not possible in the way we managed it.
It was a huge help to have documentation for our future plans and also for finding sponsors and supporters. Everyone wants to feel involved, and sharing the run with photos and film is a very compelling way to do that.
Mayur – An inventory of all the major injuries you suffered during the run?
Zoe – I had sore ankles early on and saw a French chiropractor who told me it was actually knots around my trigger points that transmitted pain down to my ankles. He showed me how to do trigger point therapy, and Alex and I repeated his technique on my legs every single night. It came up a few more times, and in the middle of the trip I had something wrong with my calf – I never found out what exactly, and I ran or walked through it. Other than that, nothing major, but very sore hips, blisters, and sun poisoning.
Mayur – Running such long distances through the day must get mind numbing at some time. What are the thoughts that go through your mind while you are say 7 hours into your run?
Zoe – This is always a hard question. Sometimes I think about every little thing a person could think about, and sometimes I think about nothing. These are such free-flowing thoughts that it’s very hard to just put them down on paper as contained, straight-forward ideas. I think about people, my friends, my family a lot, song lyrics, big ideas about life, what I’m going to drink when I finish, my body, maybe rework some confusion or something that’s been heavy on my heart.
Whether or not Jay-Z and Beyonce are really in love. Anything goes. When I’m not in the mood to lose myself that way, I often listen to podcasts, often funny ones, just to laugh or hear someone else’s voice for a while.
Coming up in part 2, Zoe’s lowest moment during the run and how she coped with it. Also her lesser known but deep connection with India and message to women runners. Keep watching these pages.
Interviewer – Mayuresh Didolkar. Mayur is a marathon runner, a novelist, a financial advisor and a standup comedian!
|If you loved this story and would like to share your experiences |
on SportsJoy then visit the Contribute to SportsJoy Page