A Run With Raven
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.