It’s a grueling course for any cyclist. The Tour de France spans more than 2,000 miles with elevation changes equivalent to climbing Mount Everest three and a half times. Cyclists will complete six mountain stages with four summits, including reaching the peak of Alpe-d’Huez — the course’s legendary mountain summit, with an incline of nearly 8 percent and 21 hairpin turns — not once, but twice. There’s no question why competing in the Tour de France is often the pinnacle of a cyclist’s career.

And Zoë Romano, ’09, is going to tackle it on foot.

This isn’t Romano’s first extreme run. In 2011, she ran 2,867 miles across the U.S., becoming the first female to complete the distance without a support vehicle. Upon her return, she started to re-acclimate to normal life, but it wasn’t long before she got antsy and started looking for her next challenge.

“The thing is, after you run the across the U.S. alone, you really, very intimately understand what your potential is, and what your new standards for life are,” Romano says.

She considered running the perimeter of Iceland.

“Instinctively I knew it wasn’t really enough of a challenge,” she says. “It’s about half the distance of the U.S. run, it’s pretty flat, there didn’t seem to be as much room for community engagement.

“I felt like it was a step down, not a step up.”

The Olympics were tossed out as a possibility, but that wasn’t quite right either.

“I thought, what’s a worldwide, globally recognized sporting event that has a reputation for being hard?” she says. And with that, her decision to run the Tour de France was made.

“There were some elements about how to purposely engage the cycling community and say, ‘hey guys, I’m going to run your sport’s toughest race — on foot — and see if I can be the first person to ever do that.’ I don’t know if I can do this, and that’s exactly why I need to try.”

The first question many people ask is, “Why?”

While the race is another way for Romano to test the limits of her body and its potential, there’s also an altruistic purpose. She’s hoping to raise $100,000 for World Pediatric Project, a Richmond-based nonprofit that provides surgical and diagnostic care to Central American and Caribbean children. The funds will allow the organization to send four pediatric teams to partner countries on weeklong surgery missions, and bring four children to the U.S. for more complex care.

It almost makes sense. Until you ask, how? How do you train for a race, when no other course can match it? And when no one else has even thought to try it?

“You can’t Google ‘running the Tour de France’ and get a nice clean website about how to do it,” she says. “As soon as I decided that was it, I sat down and took the big idea and literally just translated to paper, day for day, what that looks like. I wake up every day and look at my training schedule and know precisely what I have to do for that day and that day only. I look ahead maybe for the week.”

That training schedule started in January with just six or seven miles a day. Add a 10 percent mileage increase per week and by the end of February, Romano says the mileage “starts to get really serious.” From there, weekend runs in the Blue Ridge Mountains or Shenandoah National Forest become a necessity, even though the altitudes aren’t really comparable to the Alps. As a last resort, Romano hops on a treadmill, sets the incline to the max, and starts running. Training becomes all consuming during the last few weeks as she prepares to run 30 miles a day for more than 60 days.

Romano’s sights are set on France for the time being, but she already knows this won’t be her last run. She’s not sure if career is the right word for what she’s doing, but she says, “absolutely, it’s a long-term thing.”

“I just remember the first time I could run an hour without stopping, I felt invincible. I don’t know if there was ever really one moment, but rather a collection of moments where I slowly realized I like being outdoors and moving under my own power. If I could do exactly that, every day, that would be a great life.”

Romano will be running the Tour de France course from May 18 to July 20, arriving in Paris just before the tour champion and peloton. With the help of filmmaker Alex Kreher, anyone who wants to see just what it’s like to run the Tour de France can follow Romano’s progress, both on the course and in fundraising, at