Completing the Tour de France -- on foot - NBC Sports

Completing the Tour de France -- on foot
American Zoë Romano completes 2,000-mile running/walking journey around France
Nick Zaccardi, NBC Sports
July 21, 2013, 2:15 pm
PARIS -- Think the Tour de France is exhausting for the world's greatest cyclists?

Try completing the 2,000-mile route on foot.

A plan American Zoë Romano hatched at the turn of the year reached its climax at the Arc de Triomphe on Saturday, a day before the 100th edition of the Tour wrapped up on the Champs-Élysées.

Romano, 26, who ran with a baby stroller from California to South Carolina in 2011 (3,000 miles), averaged 30 miles per day at nine minute/mile pace beginning May 18 in Nice.

"Even the days where I didn't think I could get even 10 miles, I would push through to 30," said Romano, wearing a pink Zoës Kitchen T-shirt and hat, a few strides from the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday afternoon. "Looking at this whole thing as a grand scheme, I didn't know from the beginning if I could do it, and now I'm here in Paris."

She ran or walked around Southern France, up and down the Pyrenees, through the Alps and, finally, from Versailles to the City of Light. The Spanish tutor from Richmond, Va., ran or walked just about every road that Tour champion Chris Froome pedaled over.

Romano set a goal of raising $100,000 for the World Pediatric Project, a Richmond-based non-profit organization that provides healthcare to children in Central America and the Caribbean.

She blew past $100,000 a few weeks ago and raised the bar to $150,000. Donors and sponsors have given more than $130,000 so far (you can support her at zoegoesrunning.com).

She's not done yet. The Tour began with three stages on the French island of Corsica, which Romano hasn't conquered yet. She's taking Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to recuperate before tackling the final 300 miles.

The last day will be the most grueling. Romano plans to run the entire route of one stage on one day. She'll set out from Ajaccio at midnight on Aug. 1 and reach the finish line in Calvi by midnight Aug. 2.

That's 90 miles.

"In the spirit of the Tour de France, end it on a bang," she said. "See if I can do what the cyclists do in one day."

Her boyfriend, Alex Kreher, has followed her the whole way, helping with logistics but, more importantly, filming the quest. He did the same for the across-America adventure, putting together the award-winning "Street Dreams."

Together, they decided on this project after toying with another coast-to-coast trip and a run around Iceland they deemed too easy.

"We both love biking, so I think the Tour de France just popped into our heads," she said. "It's got a lot of mountains, and it's really hard. Just sat down and looked logistically if it was possible, and it was. So I bought a France atlas and made my mileage plan."

The last three months haven't been as trying physically as you'd think. Romano prepared meticulously. She got cold feet in the final week before the trip and visited four podiatrists or chiropractors in five days.

"A podiatrist told me I was crazy, and I'm going to ruin my body," she said. "And the chiropractor, who's like a sports chiropractor, told me this is awesome. You're insanely insane, but it's incredible."

Romano endured minor calf injuries (she was forced to walk the entire 30 miles a couple days), but trips up scenic peaks like Mont Ventoux and Alpe d'Huez invigorated her.

She had a tougher time battling the elements. She spoke with a women's cycling team that did last year's Tour route after the men finished. Their advice: bring a good raincoat.

"It just rained so much, and it was so demoralizing," she said. "Day after day, a whole month of just clouds. So that was a surprise. Then, the culture behind the Tour surprised me."

Like on the famous Alpe d'Huez, where hundreds of thousands (some say a million) spectators line 21 switchbacks on an 8.5-mile climb at an 8.1 percent gradient.

"The RVs were already set up," said Romano, who scaled Alpe d'Huez twice, on July 8 and 9, before the Tour reached it July 18. "They were out having coffee in the morning. Alex interviewed a lot of them, and they told him that they just have their own parties for like a week or two before the cyclists come by."

Romano got lost several times (she said the thing she hates the most is having to look at maps) and came within 20 feet of a grunting wild boar.

She kept a shoestring budget, dining on bread and cheese when they weren't being hosted. Romano listened to podcasts on the route -- NPR's "Car Talk" and "Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me!"

"To keep me informed," she said. "To keep me smart. It's nice to hear someone talk."
Her boyfriend logged hundreds of hours of film, but one key moment is missing.

The finish.

Their plan was to run the final few miles together (bearded Kreher lugging two cameras) up the Champs-Élysées to directly under the Arc de Triomphe.

French police had other ideas. They stopped Kreher at the Arc and told him to stop filming. They confiscated one of his cameras, scanned that day's video and deleted everything from the Arc.

"You can't film under the Arc," Romano said. "Besides a little snag, it was a great finish."

What the French police didn't erase was film from a stranger taking video of Romano and Kreher's interaction with the police. They hope to track down that footage to include in Kreher's upcoming film on the journey.

Romano longed for three comforts of home while sweating through three months in France.

1. Her family. Brother Gabe and sister Rosa surprised her by flying in for the Paris finish.

2. Peanut butter, which her brother and sister brought her.

3. A cool, relaxing day at the beach. That's a priority when she flies home in August.

Then it's on to another adventure. She smiled and said she's got a couple ideas.

"It might not be running, I'll say that," Romano said. "Hiking, roller blading, dancing, I don't know. ... Stay tuned."

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