Molly Hurford describes herself as a cycling journalist with a running problem, but winning the Outlaw 100 trail running race in course record time sounds like a problem we all would love to have. We chatted with Molly about the Outlaw 100, running, cyclocross, Dachshunds, writing and much more.
Slowtwitch: Thank you so much for your time Molly.
Molly Hurford: Thanks for letting me get extremely nerdy about running and triathlon on here!
ST: What are you currently up to and what is next?
Molly: We just got back from the Outlaw 100, so right now, I’ve been recovering and catching back up on writing. I have a draft of another young adult book that I’m working on right now that’s loosely based on Louise Armaindo. Trust me, just look her up! I’m psyched to get back to that and after a week of actual rest and super easy spins and yoga, I’m really excited to get back to some very poor technique XC skiing, running, and maybe even getting back in the pool! For some reason, all that running made me really crave swimming. No idea why.
ST: You conquered the Outlaw 100 in a course record of 23:54 and I believe that was your first 100 miler.
Molly: It was! I really had no idea what to expect, which maybe is why getting the course record was possible. The men’s record was set at 27:43, and the women’s was just over 30 hours, so I was hoping that if everything went smoothly, I might be able to get the women’s record. But anything over 12 hours was going to be a big unknown, so I was trying to not have any expectations for myself other than ‘just keep moving.’ As we were driving to the course, I was saying to my husband that I’d made a huge mistake and why didn’t I just decide to not race and do a fun long run with a friend instead, and he reminded me that sometimes, we have to actually put ourselves in the uncomfortable position of doing hard things. I think that put me in the right mindset for the race.
ST: Did it all go smooth or were there any low points or difficulties?
Molly: I feel bad saying that there were no low points, but I kind of bullied my brain into not having them! During the day, it was easy, I just kept reminding myself that, really, what could be nicer than just running on awesome trails? Then as time went on, anytime I started feeling the slightest bit sorry for myself—blisters on my toes that I could feel starting to swell like balloons, indigestion after 15 hours, being cold at night, feeling of exhaustion setting in—I just reminded myself that my husband and dog were also exhausted and cold, but they were out here for me. My best friend was out here, slogging along for nearly 50 miles overnight for me. How on earth could I be feeling low with such amazing people along for the ride? If they were willing to do that for me, what did I have to feel bad about? No matter what happened in the 100 miles, I feel like I was already winning having such awesome people willing to support me.
ST: Why that race and how did you prepare yourself for it?
Molly: It kind of felt like fate, honestly! I basically was just searching for a 100-miler in February—so that I could have the rest of my season to do ‘shorter races’ and just get a 100-miler out of the way. I needed it to be in Ontario (where I live), New Jersey (where my parents are), or near Arkansas… Cyclocross World Championships were in late January in Fayetteville, AK, and I was going to be down to cover them as a cycling journalist. Added to that, my ultra-running best friend who I’ll be pacing at Western States later this year had just moved to Arkansas for work and was able pace me. The Outlaw 100 was just a couple hours from where we were in AK, and it was two weeks after Worlds, so I’d have time to get down there, train, taper and be ready to race. So, it was a work trip, a visit with my running bestie, and a chance to race all in one.
The preparation was actually a huge part of why I signed up for it back in September. Winters in Ontario can be a little demotivating for training, since often, we’re dealing with snow and ice as early as late October. So, I figured having something on the calendar in late winter that I couldn’t just show up for would keep me excited to run.
That said, and while this was my first 100-miler, it’s something I’ve been training towards for three years! Slow and steady building up running volume, shifting focus from cycling and triathlon (while still coaching a lot of cycling camps in the winter) has been the plan since I started working with run coach David Roche back in late 2018. I already had a lot of volume in my legs, I just had to ramp everything up!
ST: I believe David Roche used to do triathlon before going all in with running.
Molly: He did cycling primarily, though he may have dabbled in triathlon as well—I think that’s why we got along so well from the start! I interviewed him for an article back in late 2017, and it just snowballed instantly from there… I’d known I wanted to do more in ultra, having done my first 50K that summer, and it was a great fit for me to start working with him. And with his background in cycling, he understood when I needed to coach cycling camps for a few weeks each winter, and we were able to build those bike miles into training to add volume, rather than consider those just wasted weeks. I’d go out and do the 100-160KM rides with the athletes, then come home and run right off the bike, so I got very used to running tired!
ST: And as for ramping up, what did that mean in your case?
Molly: Nothing huge, but definitely bigger weeks. I still don’t often do over 70 miles in a week, but the average jumped from 55-60 to 70-75 miles per week, and we had a few big training weekends. On New Years Day I had a 50K run and January 2, I had a 20-miler. And instead of resting after that, it was another 75-mile week right after. So while we never hit 100 mile weeks, I think maybe there was a 90 in there somewhere, it was just really steady building. I also do yoga and core work every day, without fail.
ST: Describe the course and what kind of crew setup you had?
Molly: It’s all single track, unlike many trail 100 milers that take place largely on dirt roads or doubletrack with some single track thrown in, so that was a major challenge, but I loved the idea of it. It has moderate elevation—about 15,000 feet over the 100 miles—so it’s almost always going up or down, but there aren’t any massive climbs or descents. I also really liked the fact that it was 5 20-mile loops and you would come through the start/finish twice each lap, which made for a much easier day for my husband and our dog, who were crewing me. That way, they could just set up camp and not be driving all over the place. I realize I wrote that as though our mini-dachshund would also be behind the wheel. We don’t let him drive. My friend Karen came out at the halfway point to pace, and her boyfriend Greg also came to help as well.
ST: Also, can you elaborate on the race nutrition?
Molly: This was a pretty important thing since I’ve never been great at fueling, if I’m honest. So, I knew eating enough was going to be tough. Luckily, I’ve trained and raced with Tailwind for a few years (not sponsored!) and knew I could tolerate the unflavored option. We decided I would use 800 calories of Tailwind (8 scoops) in every 1.5 liters of water I used, and I would switch packs every 20 miles. I use the Osprey Dyna pack, which I absolutely love, and conveniently, I’d gotten a second one on a blowout sale a couple years ago so we could actually do a full pack swap instead of messing with bladder swap-outs. I also had some fun treats in the pack: Snickers, Reese’s and ginger-molasses cookies. Peter had chicken noodle soup waiting for me when I would come through, and I’d eat a few bites of that just to get something savory. But really, I think 95% of my fueling was via Tailwind. It just ensured that I’d have a constant stream of calories coming in rather than relying on remembering to eat constantly. Plus, on that terrain, drinking was way easier than eating!
ST: What about running shoes and other gear used that day?
Molly: At first, my coach suggested that I try a cushier pair of shoes since 100s are A LOT of pounding. However, I’m used to Nike Terra Kigers, Nike’s racier trail shoe, and when I tried a more built-up trail shoe, I hated it and just couldn’t get comfortable even after several runs. The Trail Pegasus were a solid middle ground choice: Cushy, but not excessive. I honestly didn’t notice them, which is the best thing you can say about a running shoe in a race! The other big switch I made was to the Coros Pace 2 GPS watch, which has a ridiculous battery life. It lasted the entire race, and even now, a week later, it’s still at 10% battery.
ST: Prior to the Outlaw race what was the longest distance you had done on foot training and racing wise?
Molly: I did a 100K run back in May—not a race, just a fun run, but I tried to treat it like a race. I was also part of the crew for my friend Karen Holland (my pacer for this race!) as she set a new FKT on the Bruce Trail in Ontario, running more than 950 kilometers in nine days. I crewed and ran chunks of that trail with her for four of those days, so I knew what utter exhaustion looked like!
ST: I see, a 100km fun run.
Molly: Casual, yes. Where I live in Ontario, I’m surrounded by super strong women who are amazing runners, so I have a ridiculous sense of fun now. Birthdays are now a nightmare, since pretty much every month, someone needs to do a birthday run - running your age in miles or thankfully, yay Canada in kilometers. And frankly, we are not getting any younger, so these runs don’t get easier! The 100K was a fun one, we had a group of probably 20 people running throughout the day, jumping in for anywhere from 20 to 80kms, though only myself and my friend did the full 100.
ST: When some of your friends heard about you winning the Outlaw 100, how many of them thought that you had crushed a fun gravel bike race?
Molly: Definitely! Because so much of my professional life is about cycling, I think most people assumed it was a gravel race. Which meant my 23:53 time was not that impressive at all! I think once you get outside of the small ultra-bubble, 100-milers just seem unfathomable to most people. But then, when you’re in it and looking over the results from these races and seeing that there are people who are doing these runs well into their 60s, it seems so ‘normal.’
ST: On your Instagram page you have clearly plenty of running images, but they are easily matched by cycling and dog pics. How would you describe yourself?
Molly: A cycling journalist with a running problem! Also, a mini Dachshund owning bookworm.
ST: I think back in college you did an Ironman, is that correct, and how many other triathlons did you do then?
Molly: I did! I actually started in triathlon before shifting to more of a cycling focus, and then into running. My dad did triathlon back in the 1980s, and while he didn’t do any tris after I was born, I do remember him on a very, very old trainer in our basement when I was younger, and always loved seeing the photos from those races. I still have my dad’s singlet he got with a Triathlete magazine subscription, a Scott Tinley design. It’s my ‘good vibes’ running shirt that I only use for the hardest workouts. But while that sounds like I grew up doing kiddie triathlons, trust me, I was the least athletic kid ever. I was the kid who would pretend to be sick to avoid the mile in gym class. I didn’t ever even consider doing a tri myself until I was in college and starting to feel like crap all the time. Luckily, my RA happened to be an Ironman triathlete, and on the Rutgers Cycling team. That made me decide to do triathlon, and eventually join that team and find cyclocross. But I started with Olympic distance, then quickly caught the Ironman bug, so I did my first one back when I was 23. It went poorly. I dabbled in half-Ironman, some XTERRA, some Olympic, before shifting to mainly cycling. I did another Ironman back in 2017, and I still think about getting back to it at some point. I’d love to do more XTERRA events as things open back up. It was my favorite type of triathlon!
ST: Do you still swim?
Molly: Not as much as I’d like to as the pandemic has made it really hard to get into a pool here in Ontario. But it’s one of my favorite things to do. We do live right on a big bay—but again, it’s Ontario so it’s only fun to swim in for about 3 weeks a year before it’s freezing cold. But I find when I don’t swim for a while, I start to really miss it.
ST: What is your day job?
Molly: Always the good question! I’m a writer, primarily. My husband and I run The Consummate Athlete, his cycling coaching company and our podcast/website where we talk and write about all things endurance sport. I also write books, mostly about cycling and endurance sport, and I write for a ton of other endurance sport outlets like Bicycling, Canadian Running and Outside, among others. I also occasionally teach yoga classes and coach cycling camps!
ST: What kind of events are on your bucket list?
Molly: Anything and everything. I said this would be my only 100-miler, but I definitely lied. Now, I don’t have a ton on the official calendar, other than pacing my friend at Western States, but I’m starting to eye up some more ultras. There’s also a 50-mile FKT here in Ontario that I’ve messed up a few times that I really want to get back to. I didn’t want to put too much on the calendar until I saw how this event went, though, and now I feel like I’m scrambling to figure out what’s next!
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Molly: Like I said before, I also write books about bikes, and the thing I’m most proud of is The Shred Girls, a middle grade fiction series - picture The Babysitters Club, but on bikes. Growing up, I wasn’t just ‘not athletic,’ I actively thought that as a bookworm/nerd/punk kid, I couldn’t be an athlete too. Obviously, that wasn’t true. But as kids and adults, we tend to think one-dimensionally about ourselves far too often. So this series is about helping girls understand that they can have multiple identities, including that of an athlete or a cyclist, in addition to being a bookworm, or an artist, or any number of other things. It’s super important to me, and it is the most fun thing that I do!
Images 1, 2 and 3 courtesy Molly Hurford
Images 4 and 5 © Jody Wilson