By Stephanie Virbitsky (in collaboration with Kristin Sandreuter).
On the road, there is a mutual understanding between all who walk, run, hike, and trudge, that you will be irrevocably changed. It is a brotherhood, a sisterhood, a bond that forges our steely minds and fallible bodies together. The road is both a proving ground and the grounds on which we find what it really means to be human.
Sweating, mile after mile, we recognize the extent, or lack thereof, of our capabilities, the brevity of our time here, and the innate human desire to be known and create meaning from dust. We share words, miles, sweat, blood, tears, shouts of joy, cries of despair – we share our humanity with those also on the road.
We bring relationships out of thin air, we force sweat out of minuscule holes in our skin, we create incredible and ordinary feats of endurance out of consequence and persistence. The journey on the road quickly leaves the realm of the physical and floods into those of the mental, emotional, and spiritual at rapid speed.
There is something so divinely inspired by the triumphs and terrors of the road that one can find herself considering the weightier topics of existentialism in a short jaunt on the road. Suddenly, the weight of glory and truth clothe themselves in a significance they never seemed to wear in the cadence of the everyday.
The road has a reputation that it is not for the weak of body. The body can adapt to the road. It is the mind, spirit, and soul that are in danger on the road. The change the body undergoes is minimal and limited. The road is where we find our humanity. All who seek answers are welcome on the road. But they will be irrevocably changed.
By Kristin Sandreuter (in collaboration with Stephanie Virbitsky)
On the road to Big Birdcamp, I had no idea what to expect. I had not been to running camp since my senior year of high school, and a lot had changed for me since then. I wasn’t sure if running was still in the stars for me, let alone investing in something like a women’s running retreat in the woods of Pennsylvania. And yet there I was… on the road to Oiselle’s Big Birdcamp, ready to find out what the weekend had in store.
On the road to my cabin, I was surprised and delighted to encounter Lauren Fleshman in person, milling about like any other camper, and jumping at the chance to help us lug our bags. Upon introducing herself to us, she said “I’m here to serve.” I smiled, remembering why I chose this particular running community to rekindle my love of the sport. Lauren demonstrated true humility and servant leadership in action from the moment I set foot on the campground.
On the road winding deep into the Pennsylvania countryside, the real magic happened. It was Sunday, long run day. I wasn’t sure what a long run meant for me, since I hadn’t been training for anything and wasn’t even keeping track of weekly mileage. On the one hand, I was motivated to run truly long with other birds who would be doing so. On the other, I was afraid of overtaxing the body that had only recently endured seven injuries and a serious eating disorder. So, I started out not knowing how far I would go, and immediately found myself chatting with Steph, a woman I had met the day before. From our conversation, I knew she was aiming to run 18 miles that day – I told her I thought I’d only make it about 10, but would love to be her running buddy for as long as I lasted. Our first 5 miles on the road together flew by. We opened up to one another quickly, and bonded in a way I could have never imagined possible in just 45 minutes. When we got to my turnaround point, I knew that I had to keep going. Steph and I had more to discuss, and the precious miles ahead seemed to have been set aside just for us to utilize! Before I knew it, we had gone out 9 miles and were turning around to complete a full 18.
We picked up a few others on the road home, and shared many laughs, water stops, stories and silly photos together. Before I knew it, I had finished 18 miles of running – 5 more than I had ever run before, and almost 10 more than the furthest I had run within the past 5 years.
But the real magic was that it had nothing to do with burning calories, outdoing someone else, or proving anything to myself. It had everything to do with kindling a new relationship, enjoying space to discuss life and faith, and relishing the feeling of discovering my body’s strong potential. I couldn’t be more grateful to Steph for inviting me along.
On the road of life, I know there will be hills and valleys. It is going to hurt, that is a given. But I know that I don’t have to do it alone. We are sisters on the road together, and we find our worth not by comparison and competition, but by coming together to seek and strive towards a greater goal.
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