Tomaž Novak about the Race across Italy, Extreme Cycling, and the 24alife App
Tomaž Novak is an exceptional person, always looking for new challenges to overcome. Not only in everyday life, but also in extreme cycling. His last achievement was an ultra-marathon cycling Race across Italy, where he overcame a distance of 818km (or 508 miles) and over 10.000m (32808ft.) of altitude difference. Rain, wind, and hail didn't stop him. As he himself said, with the help of his family and the support team, he was able to achieve what only a few people could. Many competitors dropped out of the race this year as well, including last year's winner, but Tomaž persisted all the way to the finish line.
Tomaž, congratulations! This was an incredible sports achievement. So, why cycling and how did you begin?
In the past, I was convinced that sport in general is not for me. This was mainly because I was never able to connect my abilities, such as persistence, determination, relentlessness, enthusiasm, in the right way. But after my first experience with cycling in 2011 I knew that it was my thing. A strong connection started to develop and cycling has become my hobby, way of life and thinking. I have found myself in it and countless new challenges of which the most important is how to overcome myself.
When did you first start with the marathon cycling and how did it affect your life?
I bought my first road bike in the fall 2013 and decided to do longer distances and more demanding slopes. At one moment my friend Zoran and I made a joke that it's about time for us to go on a race and that only the ultramarathon Race around Slovenia would be just the right challenge for us. The joke was over when we actually applied for the race and we had to start training hard. The actual beginning of the ultra-cycling had been set to May 2014, when Zoran and I actually attended our first race, the Race around Slovenia.
Who is the most important person on your path and how do they support you? Who else takes part in your cycling challenges?
It is the most important to have your family by your side. On the one hand the family members are your most avid fans and on the other they feel the most deprived because due to intensive training it is hard to spend real quality time with them. Thus I am very grateful to my wife Tanja and my daughter Ajda, who really have a lot of understanding and patience for my cycling.
Besides family, let me name two of my very good friends Zoran Dimitrijevič and Erik Rosenstein. With Zoran we have started this cycling story together. We have taken our first steps and two years in a row attended the Race around Slovenia in duals. Erik, who is one of the top Slovenian ultra-cyclists, also last year's winner of the Race across Slovenia and attendant of the American Race across America (RAAM), is our common friend and he is actually responsible for our successful steps towards ultramarathon cycling. Erik also played an important role when I decided to continue this cycling path on my own and also to participate in the first solo race. Nevertheless he also became my coach.
Tomaž, a lot has been said about your preparations for the race, but could you please recap how preparations took place?
During the preparations for the ultra-cycling Race across Italy I had very diverse training. Erik recommended a lot of classic cycling trainings as well as running (during the winter), especially repetitive ascents to a nearby mountain, and also different exercises and fitness training. He also attended my activities many times and was supporting me during them. To slowly increase physical endurance and fitness in 7 months meant over 9 hours of different sports activities every week – which was also difficult to coordinate with my family and work.
You also used the 24alife app to track your preparation activities. What was your experience with the solution?
I was using 24alife during the whole preparation period and I can say I am very happy with the experience as well as with the 24alife team. I can say that professionals from different fields payed attention to my specific training. To embrace the chosen challenge, support for physical and psychological preparation was needed. Nutrition also had to be covered, as it is also very important for such long and extreme activities.
Extreme sports challenges like the Race across Italy you attended, require a lot from a person. And the strain can affect one's health. How did you manage the factors that could cause severe exhaustion?
I took many preventive medical checks, I have been to specialized doctors, took different tests and had my blood samples analyzed. Risk cannot be completely eliminated despite all the preventive measures, but it is important to lower it as much as possible. The intense training can cause lack of the iron in one's blood. Thus it has to be replaced with proper nutrition. When you get to know your body well, you can, to a certain degree, take care of it yourself.
The Race across Italy was 818 km long and had challenging terrain – there were over 10.000 meters of altitude to overcome. Besides that, the weather conditions caused many to drop out. But you persisted. What was pushing you towards the finish line?
It rained during the whole race, except a few rare rainless periods of time. There were also many heavy showers. Besides that the wind was blowing as well. On top of it all, many of us were caught by hail and at the end of the race, it got really cold. Extreme circumstances during the race caused half of the participants to drop out, and last year's winner was not an exception.
In such circumstances the racer needs great team to support him with the accompanying car. The team also directs the racer, provides food and drink, change of clothes, gives massages and so on and so on … My team consisted of my good friends Janez Ažman, Niko Pintarič and Miha Zalar. These are the guys I can completely rely on. They were ready to make sacrifices for me and the team. It is impossible to participate in the race without such a team. And if your family comes along, too, it is even more motivating. My wife's and daughter's cheering really had a special meaning due to the conditions I was racing in. To overcome myself despite the circumstances I was experiencing during the race, also kept pushing me towards.
If you take a look back, what was the most important turning point for your success in the whole process from the decision, through the preparations and to the end of the race?
All of the moments and events in the process are somehow connected. As well as everyone in my team is. But the moment that my family accepted my decision to participate in the race means the most to me.
Let's conclude with a little advice. What in your opinion is most important to know when someone is making a decision to try out the extreme cycling?
The extreme cycling is a very beautiful, but also exhausting sport that has to be approached thoughtfully and step by step. It is most important not to start on your own, because without proper knowledge one could harm their health. At the beginning it is important to discuss it with someone who is experienced. And later we should be aware that it cannot be done overnight but requires time and changes in one's lifestyle and mindset. Not to mention the sacrifice and strain that comes along. Unconditional devotedness and persistence are a condition and a premise at the same time, that at the end the dreams come true. It is wonderful to have a dream and to live that dream as well.
Many thanks from the whole 24alife team, Tomaž!