I hadn’t planned on making my upcoming 40th birthday an occasion for a midlife crisis until I heard about Jonathan Harris. “You’ve got to meet this guy,” a friend told me. “He turned 40 in January, and he’s celebrating by running 40 races in a year.” When I heard he was up to 32, I put the cookie down and retired to my bedroom. My crisis had begun, a full five months early.
Psychological research does not support the idea of a midlife crisis. This is not to say that people don’t have crises at 40, but they tend to be the same people who have crises at 30, 20, and 10. Which is one way of saying I’m going to die a neurotic mess. But how else can I explain these recent . . . urges? My purchase of hipster glasses that look like something Jonathan Franzen might use for book readings. The new guitar I can’t play. The night I felt compelled to get in a mosh pit with sweaty kids half my age. As far as midlife crises go, this is pretty flaccid stuff—no affairs with students or coke-fueled weekends in Vegas. In an environment where my wife wants me to come to bed at 10:00, my biggest rebellion is staying awake until 11:15. Still, a rebellion nonetheless.
Which brings us to Jonathan Harris. A stay-at-home dad in Lincoln Square, Harris grew up thinking 40 was old, and once he got there, he wanted to do something to prove otherwise. So he came up with the 40/40. Since his birthday, Harris—a longtime runner and obsessive goal setter—has completed 5Ks, 8Ks, 10Ks, mile runs, half marathons, and a marathon. There have been jaunts and rambles and trots and hustles, a dash up 80 floors in the Aon Center, and a zigzag through giant hanging noodles on Montrose Beach. Each has benefited a different cause, from leukemia research to conserving the endangered cheetah population of Namibia. Just reading the guy’s spreadsheet leaves me winded.
Harris is fast, but he’s not the greatest runner in Chicago. He once got passed in a race by a pizza delivery guy. Carrying a box. “I eventually ran in front of him,” he says. “But then I got passed by Superman. I am OK with getting beat by Superman, but not the pizza guy.” Harris is more about dedication than speed. One weekend, he had signed up for Run the Pier, a fundraiser for the American Heart Association, but he also had to get in a 20-mile training run for the New York City Marathon in November. So he ran from Lincoln Square to Navy Pier, did the race, and just kept jogging. If all goes as planned, his final event will be January 7: the Walt Disney World Half Marathon near Orlando, where his five- and eight-year-olds and his long-suffering wife, Andee, will be waiting at the finish line. Then he’ll walk off into the sunset and go back to running for fun—or move on to his next challenge.
It’s obvious that this man, who has gone through three pairs of Saucony Hurricanes so far this year and Lord knows how many sticks of Bodyglide trying to keep his nipples from bleeding, a man whose tie rack holds medals instead of ties, is not undergoing a midlife crisis. It’s a midlife declaration. As for me, my tie rack holds ties. My birthday is in February, so I’ve got a couple of months to figure out something I love enough to do 40 times in a row and then start doing it. From what I understand, eating cookies doesn’t count.
Photograph: Jimmy Fishbein