The Girl with the Cowbell Tattoo

She's been called "The Girl with the Cowbell Tattoo" a couple of times and she has a turtle named Sven.

Molly, who talks about her younger self as "the least athletic kid ever" said she once faked fainting to avoid running a mile in gym class. A few years later, she completed an Ironman, she competed in several UCI cyclocross races and she built her whole career around the sport of cycling; particularly around the cyclocross discipline. 

 After being the managing editor at Cyclocross Magazine and writing 3 books, Molly now works as a writer at Bicycling Magazine. She’s also writing as a freelancer (RootsRated, Map my Fitness, etc.), she hosts a podcast (The Consummate Athlete Podcast) with her new husband and gives talks around the country about lady parts! As if that wasn’t enough, in 2015, Molly got even more involved in the sport as she joined Jeremy Powers' Aspire Racing team as a team manager.

 Molly is used to be the one interviewing others, but today, we are changing roles. Get to know Molly Hurford. 

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Let’s start with the first logical question; how did you start being involved in cycling? More specifically how did you get involved in cyclocross?

When I got to college, I knew I needed to start working out to stay somewhat in shape. So, I started running a bit. Luckily, my RA for my dorm was a triathlete, and my dad had raced a bunch before I was born, so I jumped into that pretty quickly. Then, I joined the Rutgers Cycling Team to get better at the bike leg, and they basically bullied me into trying cyclocross. Six matching cowbell tattoos later, I had friends for life and a sport that would eventually turn into a career for me… Just not as a racer!

I think you started working with Jeremy Powers (Aspire Racing) last year? What is your role with the team?

You’re right! Last year and now, I’m Jeremy’s team manager with Aspire. Basically, that means that I book all the flights and hotels, coordinate with the promoters and our awesome mechanics, and make sure race weekends run 100 percent smoothly. And this year, Ellen Noble joined the team, and it’s been really fun getting to know her.

 How did you start working with them (Aspire Racing)?

I lived in Western MA—where Jeremy lives—for six months a few years ago. I was working for Cyclocross Magazine at the time, so Jeremy knew me pretty well as someone who was always around interviewing him. He asked if I was interested in doing some work with him—essentially what I’m doing now but on a more local scale—and I said yes! When I moved, I stopped working with him, but we stayed good friends, and when he needed a manager last year, it was a great opportunity for both of us to work together again!

Now that you work with Aspire Racing, how does it change the way you prepare for and the way you live races as opposed to when you were there as a journalist?

A lot more planning! And, I admit, I love that. Even my Barbies had detailed itineraries and meticulously packed suitcases when I was a kid, so this is basically my dream come true. The amount of work that goes into a race weekend now—especially when I’m writing about it in addition to getting the team through the races—gets pretty crazy.

Team Aspire Racing. Photo from Wil Matthews 

Team Aspire Racing. Photo from Wil Matthews 

 What do you like the most about working with the team?

The people, of course! It’s been great getting to know the crew—Jeremy, Ellen, Brandon and Tom. After a lot of time together last year, especially time in Europe where we’re fairly isolated, I think we’ve gotten to be really great friends. We work really hard, but we make time for team dinners… And last year, I got Rapha to work with me so we all had Christmas stockings to open since we missed Christmas at home with our families!

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Now on to your career as a writer...

When she was at Cyclocross Magazine, Molly was also working for a business that sold text books. One time, while in Vegas for Cross Vegas, she visited a college to try to sell textbooks. The conversation quickly drifted as Molly started talking about the book she had written on cyclocross rather than about the textbooks she had to sell. As she was leaving, the prof told her that if she could sell textbooks 5 percent as well as she sold cyclocross, she would make a fortune. She quit working for the textbook publisher the next week.

Since then, she wrote 3 books related to cycling.

What inspired you to write your books?

It was different each time, so I’ll break it down! That said, the one thing that happened with each one was that it was a book that was just stuck in my head and would not get out. So they simply had to get written.

My first one, ‘Mud, Snow and Cyclocross’ was an absolute labor of love—actually, one reader called it a love letter to ‘cross, and he was totally right. I just loved the sport so freaking much.

The second book, “Saddle, Sore: A Women-Only Guide to You and Your Bike was my answer to being asked a ton of women-specific (lady part specific) questions. I was trying to find a resource to send women to when they had saddle sore, chafing, chamois, or saddle questions and couldn’t find one that answered everything. So, I decided to write the book, seeking answers from experts like chamois designers and gynecologists. I don’t think my mother will ever forgive me for writing a book about lady parts!

My most recent book, Fuel Your Ride, was one that I’ve wanted to write forever—when I was six, I remember getting Cher’s fitness and nutrition book out of the library, and being obsessed. I read pretty much every book on exercise nutrition since then—Matt Fitzgerald and Allen Lim are huge inspirations to me and have become (I think, anyway!) friends over the years. But that book was also exciting because I got to consult with so many people with so much more nutrition expertise than I have, and distilling it into readable, hopefully fun content was an absolute blast.

 I personally think your articles are super varied and interesting. You talk about topics that are not often talked about. When you work for a magazine, how does it work? Are you relatively free to write about everything you feel would be interesting?

First of all, thanks! Working at Bicycling is pretty rad: we have idea meetings weekly, and most of the time, the articles I write are ones that I pitched. But I also end up doing articles that the editors choose for me, and that’s actually been great. It helps me stretch my writing and researching muscles when I get a completely new topic! I’m lucky that if I’m super passionate about something, they’ll almost always green light it.

How do you prepare for an article?

As soon as I get assigned an article (or assign myself one!), I break it down into doing the research, finding an expert, conducting an interview, outlining the key points, transcribing quotes, and getting the draft together! Sometimes, photos are involved. Once it’s in the calendar—broken down so it’s done by the deadline—I get to it!

Google Scholar is a lifesaver, as is Skype, since I can record calls from anywhere in the world. I don’t envy reporters pre-Internet. Some articles only take a day or two, some can take weeks.

What is the biggest challenge in being a writer in cycling?

Definitely learning about gear. It’s a really steep learning curve, especially as technology gets even more complicated! Keeping up with that, and with current cycling events, can be a job in and of itself.

For example, a lot of the pro racers I interviewed when I first started in cycling journalism have since retired, so I make it a point to stay current and keep finding younger up-and-coming riders to talk to. It’s easy to get complacent with sources when deadlines are tight and a ton of articles are due too, so I really try to stretch myself to find new sources frequently, whether that means a new nutritionist or coach to talk to. But I have some favorites that give such great advice, I always come back to them for the tough stuff!

Molly working simultaneously on being a reporter and being a team manager, at a race with team Aspire Racing. Photo by Wil Matthews

Molly working simultaneously on being a reporter and being a team manager, at a race with team Aspire Racing. Photo by Wil Matthews

Is there any interview or article you are the most proud of?  If so, which one?

Getting to interview Marianne Vos and Sven Nys—legends of the sport—was huge for me, of course. But really, there are too many to pick from: just to give you an idea, in 2015, I wrote over 250 articles for Bicycling! I’d say one of my most recent favorites was this one on chamois mistakes people make, simply because I think it might really help new riders. 

What is your opinion about the “health” of cyclocross in North America right now? Are we in a good place?

I think we’re in an awesome place! After finally making it to Europe for some World Cup races last season, I came back loving American cyclocross even more. I think in Europe, it’s amazing that cyclocross is the pro event that it is, with stadiums full of spectators. It feels like being at a NASCAR race in the US. But at the end of the day, I love American cyclocross because I think we manage to blend a spectator sport with a participation sport. To me, that’s the coolest thing.

 Most memorable thing you have ever witnessed at an event?

Those always seem to be the heart-wrenching moments, but they’re the ones that stick with you. I remember my first Nationals in Bend, Oregon: Jeremy was racing Todd Wells for the win, and in the last lap, he crashed in a corner and it cost him the race. I was standing at that corner, and I didn’t know Jeremy at the time, but my Rutgers friends were cheering for him, and I remember feeling absolutely devastated for him. It’s funny that that’s the memory that stayed with me… And I think it makes every time he wins now—especially now that I’m working with him—really poignant for me.

 The best memory as a journalist, though, was right before Worlds in 2013 at Kings CX in Cincinnati. I was able to interview Neils Albert and Radomir Simunek in their massive RV, and I remember asking their manager for the interview, him going in and talking to them, them saying yes, and me stepping into the trailer feeling like a journalist for Rolling Stone going to interview the latest boy band. They’re used to being rock stars in Europe, so it’s not that far-fetched! Neils was sitting at a table in this amazing tracksuit, and it was just such a surreal setup.

 What is your favorite race to watch?

Favorite race to watch had to be Worlds in Louisville back in 2013. So much drama, even before the races started! I remember sprinting (in galoshes!) to the media room when I heard all the races were rescheduled to happen on Saturday, bursting in, and grabbing Micah from USAC and shouting, “What is happening?!” It was the biggest ‘breaking story’ I’ve ever gotten to cover. Plus, Louisville is rad.

 Your bucket list race?

I guess I’m actually doing it! Peter and I decided next summer, we’re going to try for a crazy race schedule in Whistler, BC. And we’re starting with Ironman! I’ve done one before, but I’m excited to see how it goes this time now that I’m older and hopefully wiser. After that, we’ll hopefully jump into a yoga fest in town, followed by a half-marathon, then the XC MTB race and a downhill race at Crankworx. We just signed up for Ironman, so it’s happening!

Photo by Peter Glassford

Photo by Peter Glassford

I love that you touched so many aspect of the industry. Do you have any other big projects coming up?

A couple, absolutely! When I first came out with Saddle, Sore, I had no idea that people would really like it. I thought I’d sell 50 copies and be done with it. But almost three years later, it’s still selling and I’m still getting asked to give talks at shops pretty regularly! So in November, I’ll have a second edition of Saddle, Sore coming out with a ton more info on lady parts and the bike—including a bunch about pregnancy, post-pregnancy and menopause and how to ride comfortably through them! I’m stoked on some of the amazing women I got to talk to for this version. And… I actually changed it up a lot to make most of the book more male-friendly and added a chapter for guys! Book launch shindigs will be in Toronto in December, so stay tuned!

And my other project I’m working on is a middle-grade (4-6th grade) novel about (shocker!) cycling and rad girls. It’s scary, writing fiction, but I’ve wanted to write novels my whole life and it’s time to start!

 Finally, do you have any advice for someone who would want to start working in the industry as a writer?

I get asked this a ton, and the advice is kind of basic, but worth repeating. Write. A lot. I look back on my earliest articles and just cringe. But that’s what got me where I am today. I write around 20,000 words a week, if I had to average it out, and often more if I’m working on a book. So that’s my best advice: write, a lot. I never was huge on the networking-as-how-to-make-it strategy—that only works if you have the words to back it up, so work on those first and the rest will come!

Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

I guess I’d just say that I’ve been so, so lucky to have been able to travel and do what I do, and to have such amazing people in my life. Every day, I’m just so freaking happy that this is my life, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s hard, it’s exhausting, it’s challenging… and it’s just so much fun.

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Thank you so much Molly for taking the time and sharing your experience with us!