For the first time, I sit down to rest.
The old saw "A winner never quits and a quitter never wins" is running through my mind like a loop tape. Am I a quitter?! I can't get my head around it. I never quit. Yes, I've turned back while climbing mountains, but I've always had an excuse other than my body or ability: bad weather or avalanches or rockfall or the injury or death of a partner. I never quit just because I'm in pain.
"Push through the pain!" also echoes, as if my old high-school wrestling coach is screaming inside my head. Which is exactly what I've always done in the past, regardless of the consequences.
I stand up and look down at my knees. They're swollen to the size of cantaloupes. I try to start walking, but hobbling is the best I can muster. I stop and just stand there.
It is at this point, as my bloated ego screams in my ears, that I have an epiphany. Somehow—it will surprise me for months to come—my rational self steps out of the thorny vines of machismo and forces me to think about what's going on. Yes, you can continue, it says, and by the end of the race, tendons and ligaments will be popping out of your knees like worms, another surgery inevitable.
I suddenly remember how, throughout the race, Andy Weinberg (the good cop to Joe De Sena's bad cop) has, remarkably, praised those who quit as much as or more than those who continue—and it all becomes clear. This race isn't only about you against the preposterous physical challenges. That's the ruse, the perfect stratagem. This race is you against your own ego. The constant goading to quit is an exquisite, mind-bending double message: You should already know to rise above your horse's ass of an ego—and thus know when to quit—but we know you don't and won't simply because we're telling you to quit.
It's genius. The lesson of the Death Race is that you still haven't learned your lesson. My mind is on fire with the elegant atonement of it all. And while my spirit isn't broken, my body is. I quit at 21 hours.