Katka Rusá is a Strava phenomenon. In 2021, she rode an average of a thousand kilometres a week. While working full-time! Usually around a hundred a day on weekdays and five hundred on weekends. Daily commutes, no sickness, no downtime, no days off. Have you ever met a cyclist who rides 50,000 kilometres a year?

Katka hit that goal on Strava on the penultimate day of last year so the hundred kilometres on New Year's Eve was "above plan". Record distances, spectacular firsts but as a person, Katka is fairly quiet and inconspicuous. "A couple of people have written to me to say that I inspired them to try and ride 200 kilometres in one go. And they did it, even though they initially thought it was beyond their reach. That kind of news warms your heart," smiles the woman who, metaphorically, went around the globe and then from Prague to Tokyo in one year. Or, as regards the total elevation gain, climbed Mount Everest thirty-eight times on a bicycle.

Shouldn't we add the 700+ kudos your final ride received on Strava to the record tally?

Some people were getting carried away by it, which was fascinating in a way. They were often the sort of cyclists who know they couldn't do something like that even in ideal conditions and saw me as their surrogate in a way. A dream come true. They watched my story like it was on TV.

Are the comments you get mostly positive? 

On the whole yes. Now and then I get comments from people who say they envy me being able to spend so much time riding. I say to them that everyone's day has twenty-four hours and there are seven days a week. We all have the same amount of time, it's up to you what you do with it. Obviously, if you have a family you don't have that much free time. I, for one, still can't imagine becoming a mother, even though I'm old enough for that. Sometimes people say that I can't have any personal life if I spend so much time cycling. So what? It's none of their business.

So is a relationship with another cyclist the answer?

Only to an extent. I ride far, my partner rides fast. He'll probably always be faster, so he doesn't feel the need to beat me in distance. He certainly thinks I ride for quantity, not quality but he doesn't beat me over the head with it every day. He prefers to go somewhere he likes, where he can enjoy nature and the views. He is happy to throw his bike in the car, drive a hundred kilometers to some nice place, ride around there for two or three hours and then drive home again. I would regret not doing the getting there and back bits. I don't mind riding routes I know by heart. But it was he who motivated, sometime in November, to try and reach the fifty thousand. I was actually about to take it easier to be able to spend enough time with him.

So you don't ride together much?

Sometimes we do, but it's not very good. I mean, men generally ride faster, of course. They try to ride at my speed but I find two hours is their limit. I can understand that a guy who would normally average 30 kph or more on his own doesn't feel like doing an eight-hour ride with me at 25 kph. So we usually ride together for like two hours, have a cake somewhere and go our separate ways. He likes to ride a lot, but he's not as obsessed with it as I am.

Do you think it is an obsession?

That's what people say so maybe it is an obsession. It's my hobby, and lately, it's about the only sport I can do. I have knee issues that stopped me from playing squash and volleyball. I can't run at all or do winter sports. Cycling is my only winter sport now.

So how much of your life do you spend on your bike? How would you quantify it?

You mean like sleep for eight hours, work for eight hours, ride for eight hours?  Certainly, I don't cycle a third of my time. According to Strava, I spent over 2000 hours on the bike this year, some 84 days, which is not even a quarter of a year... But if I take off the eight hours a day I sleep, it's about a third of my waking hours. My morning commute takes about an hour, then I ride for two or three hours after work. I do more on the weekend, of course, usually eight to ten hours a day.

Do you prefer to ride on your own?

I guess I do. Mostly because I don't have to chase after anyone needing to go outside my comfort zone. I go at my own pace and if I don't feel like pedalling I knock it off a bit. And if I feel like going hard I'll do it. And happily in places where others wouldn't see much sense in doing it.

Are you a loner, then?

I wouldn't call myself a loner. It sounds kind of desperate to me. I'd rather call myself an introvert or not a very social person. That sounds more like it's coming from me rather than from the outside.  

Why did you include an emoji of a turtle in your Strava monicker "kat (turtle) secteur"? And what about the secteur? 

After the first few rides I posted on Strava I got annoyed with people saying I was slow. So I put a turtle in my name so people would take it for granted. Sure, the "slow" then was different from the "slow" now, but I still don't ride fast, that's for sure so I'm leaving the turtle there for now. And secteur was the name of the model I rode at the time.

Would you ride those distances if weren't for Strava?

I've always kept track of them.  Spreadsheets and numbers, that's always been my thing, tinkering with numbers, playing with them. I guess you could say they motivate me to ride. But doing it on Strava motivates me because of the feedback I get, especially under longer rides. I like to shock, to amaze. I find that I'm an inspiration for some people. Or an unfulfilled dream for someone else and the idea that I might be helping someone drives me forward. The comments and kudos drive me on. I feel good when people write to me saying "well done". It motivates me to push for more.

You have made Strava your social medium of choice. Do you respond to everyone? How much of your time does this take?

I do try to respond to everyone, especially when the comment is in the form of a question. I get loads of comments along the lines of "nice ride", "respect", "hats off". I react to those with a collective "thank you". I don't know how long it takes me to reply to the comments. I'm a dependable type. If someone goes into the trouble of asking me a sophisticated question, they can rest sure they'll get a proper response.

Had you always wanted to find out where your limits were or did it only come with cycling?

It wasn't so much about trying to find my limits. For a long time, I was looking for a sport I would enjoy 100%. I never had a problem being completely committed to what I did. I used to play volleyball up to five times a week and I always wanted to get better. But there are just too many other aspects to a team sport. So many things must go well for you and your teammates to enjoy it. After many years of trying to find happiness on the volleyball court, I decided to go it alone and switched to cycling. This was also due to the knee problems that started limiting my volleyball performance. I could say something that only served as a means of transportation to matches and training sessions for years became my main hobby. On the bike I can test my limits in complete peace without having to argue about whose fault this or that was on the court. I don't feel pressured on the bike, and the zero stress also suits me in that it gives me a break from the reality of everyday life.

What has been your longest ride so far?

The twenty-four-hour race I did in 2020. I rode 674.6 kilometers enjoying the professional support from Festka: a fantastic bike I could lift on my pinky and a van full of spare parts, food and energy drinks.

The longest trip, though, was my first ride from Prague to Brno and back. It didn't go as well as planned because I was unlucky with the weather. The original intention was to ride 600 km within 24 hours of riding time. In the end, I was glad to have survived the 589 km I managed unscathed. I had to stop because of a rain-storm and that meant a second sleepless night which foiled my plan. It was the first time ever I had to fight microsleep on a bike. Last year I did the Prague-Brno-Prague ride again but in better conditions and on a shorter 500 km route.

Which characteristic do you think is the most important for such high-volume riding? Is it patience, perseverance or apathy?

Apathy is probably closest to the truth. It's important to be able to not think about how much further you have to go as it can pretty much spoil all the fun. It can become a drudgery. Of course, a person who has never ridden a century is not going to hop on a bike and ride 500 km. They would get sore in many places. But anyone who can do 200 km can do 300 km. 

What do you demand of your bike? 

It must be light, comfortable and require minimum maintenance. That's probably what I appreciate most about the Festkas I ride. In 2020 I achieved my record to date of 45,678 kilometers in a year of which a large part was on a Festka Scalatore. Ninety per cent of my mileage this year was on a Festka as I don't take it out when the weather is very bad. On such days I opt for my cyclocross bike with mudguards. The thing I like about Festka is that the bikes are essentially maintenance-free. The Chris King bearings are great and they are perfectly protected. They never needed any replacement during the nearly 60,000 clicks I've ridden on the two Festka bikes.

Is work just an activity that keeps you away from cycling?  

I enjoy my work, otherwise I wouldn't be doing it. I work as a proofreader for an online news service. I used to work as a journalist, too. I've always been a bit of a grammar nazi. Now it's in my job description. 

Where are you going to take your cycling next? 

I'm gonna have to take a little break next year. I don't mean stopping riding altogether. I expect to ride between 20 and 30K km next year. My body is beginning to protest against some of my more ambitious plans. My wrists are the worst in this respect. The Czech roads can be quite bumpy. Also, I get a lot of tingling in my palms and then of course there are those knees I have been having problems with for a long time. Cycling is good for beating arthrosis in the big joints but it has its drawbacks. I feel that if I tried to beat 50,000 next year, my knees wouldn't have it.

What are you going to do with the extra time? 

I think I'll just rest. And I play scrabble competitively so some of the time will be spent there.  

Tell me more about that. Apparently, your whole family is famous for it. Is there a connection between the systematic planning of journeys, counting traffic lights and passing cars on your commutes and scrabble?

I discovered Scrabble when I was 11 years old. I guess the only connection is that I ride to scrabble tournaments. They're a good excuse for me to ride to places I would normally not go to because they're too far for a one-day round-trip. The furthest I've ever gone to was Třinec some 400 kilometers away. I went there with a friend in absolutely awful weather, even though it was summer. It rained the whole way. We rode there on a Friday, I played the tournament on Saturday and we rode back on Sunday. I've ridden to tournaments in Ostrava, Pilsen, Brno and Hradec Kralove. My family is a bit of a scrabble gang. Or perhaps I should say we used to be. I won my third national title last year. My younger sister who, sadly, is not here anymore used to play very well. She was the youngest national champion when only twelve. She would have won many more titles. Now it's just me and my mom. My dad sometimes plays at home but he's too high-strung to play tournaments.

Let's go back to the bike for one final question. What are your favourite moments on the bike?

All of them (laughs). No, not the ones in the cold. The ideal moments are of course the ones in the sun, in no wind, on a smooth surface, with few cars... But I think my favourite moments are when I don't know where I am, how far I am from home, when I'll be back, and, ideally, not even which direction I'm going. But I have to ride at least four hours to get to such a place. Although when it's foggy it may happen as close as an hour from home...

Don't forget to follow Katka on Strava and Instagram.

written by: Petr Vizina
photos: Tom Hnida

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