When the publicist for “Master Class: Living Longer, Stronger, and Happier” sent an advance copy of Peter Spiers’ new book to me, I knew it would jump to the top of my pile. After reading the first few chapters, I was hooked. “I want to be a Master during this next phase of my life,” I said to myself. “What does it take to master the Master Way of Life?”
Spiers is Senior Vice President of Road Scholar, formerly known as Elderhostel, the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to lifelong learning and educational travel. Much of his book is based on research and feedback from past travel participants. Elderhostel changed its brand name a few years ago when they realized that for Baby Boomers the world “elder” is no longer acceptable. (Much agree with the name change. Ooh, ooh, ooh, soon I will be of the age to participate in Road Scholar trips — can’t wait.)
According to Spiers, the four key dimensions of the Master Way of Life are socializing, moving, thinking, and creating. Many who are Masters gravitate to activities that combine a few of these dimensions like gardening, participating in book clubs, volunteering, walking with friends for exercise, maintaining a website or blog (me, me, me, meee!) or other activities.
Spiers says: “For everyone, no matter what the specific trigger, this stage starts when something causes you to look up and see that you’ve been running at full speed, often out of an admirable obligation to care for someone else, and to realize that it’s time to take care of yourself for a change.” (Hmm, hmm, this is starting to sound like someone I know. Ah, yes, this sounds like me, me, me, meee! I do hear that small voice in the back of my head. It is planting new dreams and reawakening old ones. It is starting to scream pretty loud.)
Spiers says that “the more you make of this stage of your life, the longer it can last.” He says that “true Masters – are still going strong in this life stage in their eighties and even nineties.” (I think my mother who is 90 is definitely a true Master. You go girl. Yes, you keep going and I’m going to follow. And so is my sister N.)
Spiers says that “this life stage can last 30 or even 40 years, making it for some extraordinary people the longest, happiest, and most enriching and satisfying period in their lives.” (Wow-o-wow, I am so excited to become a Master.)
Spiers provides a step-by-step guide with exercises, charts and activities to become your own Master. He also provides life lessons from those who are already mastering Master Class. As part of this blog post, Spiers offered to share one of his own life lessons. Here’s his story:
“My childhood friend Kevin and I reconnected through Facebook; we hadn’t been in touch since the day in 1972 when we graduated from high school. Despite the gap of time we soon discovered a shared passion—running. Kevin was more dedicated, tracking his distance and pace with a GPS watch and posting his runs to a website called RunKeeper. I was more casual, running 10 or 12 miles each week to Kevin’s 20 or more and keeping no records. Kevin’s approach inspired me; at the end of 2011 we formed a goal together to run 2,012 miles in 2012. I got a GPS watch for Christmas and launched into the quest on New Year’s Day.
Things went well through April. The winter was mild in the Northeast, my favorite dirt trail stayed blessedly clear of snow, and I consistently reached my goal of 84 miles each month. (I’d even lost eight pounds since the Holidays!) With a few days left until the first third of the year ended my total mileage stood at 324, 12 miles short of where I needed to be at April’s end to stay on pace. I ran nine miles on Sunday, April 29th, and needed only three more on Monday.
Five years ago I began to experience intermittent pain in my left knee which my sports doctor diagnosed as arthritis. The pain came and went and, even when it came, it was tolerable. I adjusted, cutting exercises like squats and lunges from my gym workouts, and not climbing stairs two at a time. But I kept running, racking up around 600 miles each year and doing some five- and 10-kilometer races. A thousand miles in a year didn’t seem like a big stretch, though I guess I knew in the back of my mind that a collision with fate might result.
So I ran my long weekend run on Sunday, April 29th, and the next day, despite long habit, I didn’t take the day off. After work that Monday, the last day of April, I ran an easy three miles; reaching the milestone—running those last three miles to push myself through the checkpoint—seemed more important than resting.
The next day, May 1st, I got out of bed and knew immediately something was wrong. My knee felt stiff, my range of motion limited. All day the pain gathered; by late afternoon I felt like a giant had put one hand on my thigh, another on my calf and twisted the two parts of my leg in opposite directions. I swallowed some ibuprofen, made an appointment with my knee doctor, and waited.
Within days the pain began to subside, but I knew better than to risk running for a while. I swam a bit and, after a week or ten days, tentatively ventured out to walk a few miles at a medium clip. A week later I started running again, taking it short and slow. On the last Sunday in May I ran five miles, and on the first Sunday in June—just two days before my doctor’s appointment—I ran seven.
The next day I was again in a lot of pain; I could have scripted my doctor’s appointment. We compared x-rays from five years ago with new ones and the incremental wear on my knee was obvious. It wasn’t anything catastrophic—just a steady grinding, another notch or two ratcheted toward never running again.
Don’t stop running, the doctor told me. Just not so far and so often. Reality had finally caught me, slamming right into my thousand-mile dream.
I’m fifty-seven. It’s getting harder for me to hear conversations in a noisy bar or restaurant. My shoulder sometimes aches, thanks to tendonitis and a couple of long-ago bicycling accidents. And now my left knee was sending a message I couldn’t ignore.
Despite these inevitable signs of aging, I’m not throwing in the towel. Physical fitness is too important, not only in combating everything from heart disease to diabetes, but for cognitive health, too. Our culture separates mind and body, forgetting that the brain is just another organ, dependent on a healthy cardio-vascular system to provide it with oxygen and sugar.
I’ll adjust and find another, lower-impact form of exercise to obsess about. As a teenager I swam competitively and, though I don’t cycle as much as I used to, my Cannondale is still hanging in the garage. And the doctor didn’t say I couldn’t run at all, so… triathlon, anyone?
I hope Peter Spier’s story inspires you to think differently about how you want to Master your own journey during your life after 50. Let me know what you plan to do. Share a comment or two.