As soon as Molly Brannan finished her 42,195 meter piece, she slowly placed the erg handle up against the cage, brought her hands to her face, and began to cry.
The tears were understandable, and could have come for any one of a few reasons; the fact that she had just erged for more than three hours - 3:18.11 to be exact; or the giant blister on her finger; or because she had just won the women's Open Women's Marathon Event at the 2018 Erg Sprints | World Rowing Indoor Championships in Alexandria, Virginia Sunday.
She went with the "tears of joy," when pressed for a reason.
"It was amazing," said Brannan, 34. "I’m so excited that I won. That’s part of why I was so emotional when I finished. Winning is incredible."
Molly Brannan's tears of joy
Brannan was one of 11 athletes who participated in the grueling 42,159 meter marathon events that were part of the Erg Sprints weekend schedule inside the T.C. Williams High School Gym. Brannan, and her fellow endurance rowers, could have chosen a variety of lesser evils - a half marathon, 30-minute row, 20-minute row, 2K, 1K, or even a 500-meter sprint.
But Brannan chose - willingly - to sit on a Concept2 ergometer and spend the better part of a Sunday morning in various stages of pain - which, for many reasonable observers begs the question, why?
Her answer, and those of her fellow distance competitors over the weekend, ranged from liking the challenge, testing limits, the physical rush, or maybe just plain old insanity.
"Well, first, I was excited because this was so close to Richmond where I live and it was going to give me an opportunity to compete," she said. "And I like the way it makes me feel when I'm erging. I feel like I’ve reached a more heightened consciousness through the challenge. Or, I don’t know, because I’m crazy?
"I'm not much of a sprinter, I don’t do well in sprints," she said. "I know I can suffer for a long time, and that’s my talent."
Brannan said to pass the time and get through the ceaseless, and repetitive, strokes, she listens to music and breaks up the time by giving herself little goals and rewards.
"I break it up into to chunks," she said. "So, I know I’m going to have a Gu at about every 10,000 meters, and I try to have my water and Gatorade at certain points so I have something to look forward to.
"Then I give myself goals, like I have to get to the next 2K and take a ten. I just play mind games the whole time."
Just passing the morning away
Another trick is to take advantage of the distractions of the other events being run, and watching athletes and spectators come and go. And seeing the numbers tick down on her screen.
"This atmosphere is nice because there are a few other things going on, and I can listen to the other races," she said. "It keeps me interested and I have a few other things to look at. But, yeah, I pretty much stare at my screen the entire time and think about the numbers."
Another distraction was having some of the other athletes next to her. One companion a few ergs down was Andrew Douglas, a 19-year-old James Madison University freshman rower who decided to pull the 42-thousand-plus meter piece to avoid pulling a 2000-meter piece.
Which makes a lot of sense to some rowers. Right?
"The things we do," said Douglas. "It's all a mental game.
"I did this because the team was going to go another erg sprint at William and Mary and they all they had were 2K’s, and I didn’t want to do that. So, I told the coaches I’m going to do a marathon, hoping I could get out of going to that erg sprint. But our team went to this one anyway."
His coach Tuck McFarlane was there to see him finish, and confirmed Douglas had offered to do a marathon in place of a 2k.
So, did he have to then pull a 2k with his team? "No. And I was grateful," he said.
Andrew Douglas avoids a 2K