Zoe Romano runs down valuable lessons

Courtesy Alexander Kreher

Zoe Romano believes setting a clear mission is a crucial step toward reaching the finish line.

When she took the first steps of her 2,000-mile journey nine weeks ago, Zoe Romano wasn't sure she'd ever actually finish. She was buzzing with excitement as she stood at her start line in Cagnes-sur-Mer heading toward Marseille. But she was equally nervous and scared, rightly so for someone who was about to cover the entire Tour de France course on foot.

Now standing in Calvi, a town on the northwest coast of the island of Corsica, she has finished 79 days of running, logging an average of 30 miles each day.

"This just feels surreal because there were so many times I had doubts and felt uncertain," she said. "There were times when I could hardly imagine being able to finish on time and in one piece. It feels impossible that it has actually happened."

Logistics demanded she run the first stage of the Tour last; after crossing the finish line in Paris a day ahead of the riders, she headed for Corsica to round out her journey. Not one to shy away from a challenge, she chose to run the final leg -- 90 miles -- all in one go and finished in the darkness on Thursday after 23 hours and 5 minutes of running.

"The Tour de France is so difficult and is designed for drama, the thought of doing Corsica 30 miles at a time sounded tedious," said Romano, who lives in Richmond, Va. "So I figured I'd end it with a bang."

From valley lows to mountaintop highs, Romano's mind and body have experienced various stages not unlike those of the Tour itself.

"The start was really exciting because it was this culmination of many months of planning and training," she said. "The Pyrenees were daunting but a motivational challenge. There's nothing like running across a mountain range."

Then there were the days slogging on roads, completely exposed to wind, rain and 110-degree temperatures. Tears were shed, frustrations aired and doubts beat back.

"I think I had to have those low points in order to break down and then build myself back up even stronger," she said.

She credits the World Pediatric Project, the organization for which she is fundraising, with giving her the motivation to continue during the difficult moments.

"Before we left, we formed relationships with those who work for World Pediatric, as well as some of the patients and their families," said Romano, who has raised $143,720 of her $150,000 goal. "Memories of those connections were profound during the hardest stages."

While the stunning landscapes, unique culture and colorful characters she met along the way have made an indelible imprint on her, she says that lessons learned through introspection are perhaps the most valuable of the trip.

Here are seven of her takeaways:

Allow yourself to be vulnerable

Knowing that failure was a real possibility didn't prevent Romano from going for her goal. "If you want to do something no one else has done before, you have to put yourself out there," she said. "This was a really personal mission of mine, and it was out in public. Being willing to say that I was intimidated and didn't know if I could do it helped me make the leap in the first place."

Whatever your mission, make it meaningful and clear

An adventure pursued with a concrete purpose boosts fortitude in the face of adversity. In Romano's case, her underlying reason for running was to raise money for the World Pediatric Project. "Knowing that the run was more than just a run kept me going during the times I felt like quitting," she said.

Appreciate your days in the sun

Romano was struck by how much the weather impacted her mood, motivation and confidence. The gloomier the day, the higher the degree of difficulty. "When it was overcast for four weeks in the middle of the trip, it was quiet demoralizing," she said. "Two days before the run up Mont Ventoux, the sun came out and it's only rained once after that. It helped restore my confidence and reminded me why I was doing this."

Take life in stages

Romano refused to let herself dwell on the enormity the task at foot. By taking a big goal one step at a time, she was able to break it down into manageable pieces. "On those days I couldn't think about running, I just thought about the next moment," Romano said. "If you can get past those mental barriers, you can accomplish amazing things."

Kitchens can be the scariest places of all

The day before Romano entered Versailles, she was staying in an apartment that had a gas stove with a glass plate over it. She thought it was electric and didn't know she had to pull the glass off, so when she started cooking, it shattered and nearly blew up in her face. It wasn't until she started running that she felt a sense of calm. "I could feel my blood pressure coming down, and my nerves settling," she said. "Even after I blew up a stove and nearly killed myself, it's funny to think that it was still running that calmed me down."

The more you learn, the less you realize you know

Whether you're running along the Seine or reading a good book, there are infinite lessons waiting to be learned. "I had a lot of time to think and reflect out there, and it made me realize how much more I have to learn about the world," she said. "Life is all about being curious and open to new information and experiences."

Naivete can be a really good thing

Sometimes too much knowledge can keep us from setting out. "If I had known how hard this was going to be beforehand, it would have been really scary," Romano said. If you're never willing to venture beyond the bounds of your current abilities and understanding, how are you to know where the limits lie?

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