Crazy Legs

A Run With Raven

Canadian Running - - DEPARTMENTS - By Michal Kapral

I’m stand­ing at the 5th Street life­guard sta­tion in Mi­ami’s South Beach. It’s 4:30 p.m., and there’s no sign of the man who has run eight miles ev­ery day from this spot for the past 43 years. “Don’t worry,” says a grey-haired man with a base­ball cap stand­ing nearby. “Raven is just run­ning a bit late. I saw him on his way. I’m ‘Tax­man.’” He gives me a fist bump, a Raven run­ner tra­di­tional greet­ing. Just then, a fig­ure in black saun­ters onto the beach. It’s him. He strips off his black jean jacket and black pants, and stuffs them into a cubby at the side of the life­guard sta­tion. “We need to go now,” Raven says. “We’ll be fin­ish­ing in the dark.” Robert “Raven” Kraft, 67, has cov­ered more than 200,000 kilo­me­tres on his daily runs, all of it on the beach, never miss­ing a day since he first made a New Year’s pledge on Jan. 1, 1975, to run eight miles ev­ery day for a year. Once the year was done, force of habit kept him go­ing and oth­ers be­gan to join him. He’s never stopped. Why eight miles? “Be­cause seven miles wasn’t enough, and nine miles was too much,” he says.

A few other run­ners have as­sem­bled for the start. Raven, now shirt­less, wear­ing only black run­ning shorts, worn-out run­ning shoes with the laces un­done, a black ban­dana and tinted avi­a­tor glasses, sets off south­ward. “It’s time for roll call!” Raven booms, in a deep bari­tone. He sings out in­tro­duc­tions for each of the run­ners, fol­lowed by their nick­name.

We run to the south­ern­most point in South Beach, touch a hand to the rail­ing and turn back into the wind. Raven al­lows the other run­ners to go ahead, but I stay to talk. When he finds out I’m from Canada, Raven rat­tles off the nick­names of five or six other Cana­di­ans. He tells me I’m the 2,831st run­ner to join him, and dubs me “The Jog­gler” af­ter learn­ing about my habit of run­ning while jug­gling.

Raven has in­spired peo­ple to run away from prob­lems with drugs and al­co­hol and de­pres­sion. He’s helped non-run­ners be­come long-time run­ners. He has mar­ried two cou­ples on the run. Life­guards shout out to him as we run by, and beach po­lice of­fi­cers on atvs honk and wave. The sun sinks into the hori­zon and the sky turns or­ange-red. “I haven’t missed a sun­set in 43 years,” Raven says. And then we’re run­ning un­der a blan­ket of stars.

Pow­er­ing through the sand, Raven tells me how he got started. He had re­turned from Nashville, where his dreams of mak­ing it big as a song­writer had im­ploded into bit­ter­ness af­ter one of the songs he wrote be­came a hit, but he got no credit for it. De­pressed, he be­gan drink­ing, and had a rough cou­ple of years. He be­gan work­ing out with a cou­ple of boxer friends, and one day joined one of them, “Bull­dog,” for a run on the beach. It lifted his spir­its, and af­ter a few years, he was run­ning al­most ev­ery day. Bull­dog dubbed him “Raven” – and a run­ning leg­end be­gan.

What should have been an or­di­nary rou­tine of re­peat­ing the same run of the same dis­tance on the same beach at the same time of day be­came some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary. Over the past 15,707 days, Raven has run through bouts of food poi­son­ing, been pelted by hail un­til blood streamed down his face, was nearly struck by light­ning, and faced all the ma­jor hur­ri­canes. Irene, An­drew and Wilma were bad, but Irma – with winds of over 160 km/h – lit­er­ally spun him around and blew him over. Once, while run­ning near the south­ern pier, Raven sank up to his shoul­ders in the sand, which had been churned up by con­struc­tion work­ers. It took him five ter­ri­fy­ing min­utes to haul him­self out.

Raven’s big­gest chal­lenge now is his own body. He’s hob­bled by ex­treme pain from spinal steno­sis – a con­di­tion that pinches the nerve roots in his back. His pace has slowed dra­mat­i­cally, but he has no plans to stop. “Ev­ery day is a train­ing run for the next day!” he shouts into the wind, with a big smile on his face.

Af­ter more than two hours of run­ning, we fin­ish back at the life­guard sta­tion. Raven tells me if I come back again for a sec­ond run be­fore leav­ing, I’ll im­me­di­ately jump about 1,000 po­si­tions for num­ber of Raven runs, since most peo­ple only run with him once. I tell him I’ll try.

I get busy with the fam­ily and don’t make it back. But it’s OK. I have enough in­spi­ra­tion to last me for years. Michal Kapral has set mul­ti­ple run­ning-re­lated world records – the stranger, the bet­ter.

ABOVE Robert “Raven” Kraft and his col­lec­tion of shoes on Mi­ami Beach

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