Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Raven Run of Miami

Have you ever wondered about your running bucket list?

What kind of running experiences do you want out of life before you ascend to the great trail in the sky?  Ever since a reader brought it to my attention a few years ago, I've wanted to do the "Raven Run" down in Miami, Florida.

In short, Robert "Raven" Kraft is a man who has lived in Miami almost his entire life, and has been running 8 miles on the sands of South Beach every single day since January 1, 1975. Let me repeat that.  8 miles, on the same beach, every single day.  For the mathematically challenged, that's over 40 years and 100,000 miles.  He is currently #9 on the USRSA's active running streak list, but he is the only known person in the world to streak the distance he does.

8 miles.  On the beach.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Robert "Raven" Kraft
From Spirit Magazine

A man like this naturally acquires an aura about him, with terms like "legend" and "rockstar" bandied about casually.  Much like Forrest Gump, Raven has inspired a cult following of runners that join him on his early evening runs (I was the 2,403rd runner to do so).  At the end of each run, Raven bestows nicknames upon the newbie runners.  Runners going by names such as "Taxman," "Dizzy," and "Chapter 11" head up the list of those who have logged the most runs with him.

A few more links to articles about Raven:

"Raven's Way" from Trail Runner
"The Long Run" from Spirit Magazine
"Miami Beach Man Celebrates 40 Years of Daily Run" from The Miami Herald
Documentary trailer on YouTube.

Every time Stevie and I visit her family in South Florida, I think about the Raven Run, and I finally got my chance to join last night.  Stevie agreed to take care of Neale's bedtime routine, and her grandmother agreed to let me borrow her car and drive the hour south, all so I could run with a man I'd never met before.

Getting there was no small task.  The highways approaching Miami are challenging in their complexities at the best of times  ("I only go to Miami at gunpoint" as my father-in-law tells me), but last night I also had torrential downpours and horrible traffic to contend with.  By the time I pulled up to South Beach just before 5pm, my knuckles were whiter than snow and my nerves were just about shot.  I hustled over to the 5th Street lifeguard stand with minutes to spare, expecting to see a shirtless gentleman in black shorts holding court with a knot of runners.

I found nothing.

The beach was full of frolickers enjoying the sun, but no runners.  I paced up and down the sand, scanning for any sign of a slowly moving running herd, assuming I must have missed the group, but still nothing.  Finally at 5:15, feeling a little dejected, I decided to run a mile to take care of my own running streak.  I didn't have it in me to run 8 miles alone.  When I got back to the lifeguard stand, I thought I would take a picture before packing it in and heading back to the car.

Seconds after taking the picture, the man, the myth, the legend shuffled over to the lifeguard stand.  As it turns out, while the website gives the starting time as 5pm, the actual time is 5:30.

Normally 10 or so runners join Raven's run, but I was the only person to start with him last night (we were later joined by a few other runners here and there throughout the run).

"You saved my streak," he tells me while locking up his things at the lifeguard stand.  Raven hasn't run alone since 2005.  As we begin, Raven bellows in his deep, Johnny Cash-like voice: "Roll call!  We've got Scott from Collingswood, NJ joining us tonight!"  Raven's is a life deep seated in traditions of his own making, one of which is to announce each runner, new and old, as the run begins.  Even if we're the only two running.

The sun is alone in the sky and beats down steadily.  Despite the pace being slower than I'm used to, the sweating begins immediately.  On an average day, 8 miles will take me just over an hour.  If I'm pushing myself I can dip a few minutes below that.  But tonight, as with most nights, Raven takes almost two and a half hours to complete his run.  He's in a lot of pain, you see.  Pain that he might be able to mitigate with surgery, but he's afraid the recovery required will break his streak.  Right now running is the only thing that makes the pain feel better, even if it is slow and he often needs to stop to stretch.

Two and a half hours of running is a long time to get to know someone.  We talk about how he used to run in the soft sand in the middle of the beach, but abandoned this for the harder packed sand at the back of the beach sometime in the 90's as the aches increased.

"But I've never run in snow," he tells me, which leads to an involuntary chuckle from me and a brief recounting of the madness that was Boston Marathon training last winter.

We talk about streaking, and I tell him about my own streak, paltry in its newness compared to his, but he encourages me to sign up with USRSA since my streak is longer than a year.  We talk about the days when it seems impossible to get that run in.  Just last week he suffered food poisoning, but still kept the streak alive.

We talk about running, how he's never been into races, how 8 miles is the perfect distance. He tells me about the six runners who have been banned from the Raven Run over the years. He lists his accolades, such as the mayor of Miami awarding him the key to the city, the various articles and films about him, including a recent documentary that he was sad didn't truly capture the pain he is in.  I must stress that none of this comes off as bragging, but instead simple facts in a casual conversation between two runners.  He really is that nice and genuine of a man.

As other runners that Raven knows join us for a mile or two - one of the lifeguards, an insanely fit 53-year-old man from the Dominican Republic, two men in the restaurant business - Raven introduces me and keeps me in the conversation.  If another runner passes us, he repeats a line he often uses: "She may look great, but she ain't doing 8."

My life as a German teacher in a public high school comes up, which somehow leads to me sharing my favorite word in the German language with him.  The word for "sex" in German is just der Sex, but the word for "intercourse" is der Geschlechtsverkehr.  When literally translated, this actually means "gender traffic."  Raven gets a kick out of this and decides this will be my nickname.

"But only if you're ok with it."

It might be the most absurd nickname I've ever been given, by none other than the running legend of South Beach.  Yes, I am totally ok with it.  Gender Traffic it is.

On and on we trot, up and down the beach, making three trips to the pier at the south end. He touches the southern most point every time before turning around, and on our third trip out there, I run ahead and touch it first.

"He's looking like a veteran runner already!" Raven calls out.  I, like most runners, like Raven, like accuracy.  If Raven says that's the southern most point, then that's what I want to touch to know I went as far as I could.

At around 7:30, we finish the run just as we started: just the two of us.  By now the sun is close to setting and obscured by thick layers of clouds, the crowds on the beach thinned but still a presence.

Raven used to complete a 1/3 mile swim in the ocean after each run, but the motion hurts too much now.  He encourages me to complete the swim, but I decide that I need to head back to the Mrs.  I leave all of my running clothes on and take a dunk in the warm ocean while Raven watches my things, and just before I leave he gives me a copy of Spirit Magazine, the one in which he is featured.  We shake hands, he gamely obliges my request for a selfie, and I tell him I hope to run with him again someday, perhaps when I return this December for Christmas.

I walk back to the car and change out of my clothes and drive an hour north, this time along empty highways under the gleaming stars.

I loved running with Raven.  I loved that he was one of the nicest men I've ever met, so open with his story even though I'm a complete stranger and he's told it a thousand times before.  I loved feeling the camaraderie not just with Raven, but with the South Beach running community.

I could never imagine such an unwavering routine, running the same 8 miles on the same stretch of beach every day, crippling myself in the process while paradoxically saving myself from the pain at the same time.  It might seem odd that I find in Raven a kindred spirit, but it's precisely the temptation of calling him crazy, the disbelief at how he chooses to live his life, that cements the feeling.

I think the true badge of honor in being a runner is to be called crazy.  How many times have I laced up on a particularly heinous winter day and received side eye from friends and family? How many times have I described my running streak or the final miles of a marathon and the listener looks like he wants to shake me out of my senses?

While there are certain aspects of Raven's lifestyle I wouldn't want to emulate, I have nothing but respect for this man who found something that works for him, something he is passionate about, and did it.  One man's "crazy" is another man's "dedicated," and Raven is the most dedicated man I have ever met.

Raven lives in a condo he bought in 1988 just two blocks from the 5th Street lifeguard stand. One of the runners tonight joked that Raven will have to sell him his condo someday, but Raven told him he plans to have it turned into a museum about his life and runstreak after he dies.  This is the legacy he has chosen to live and wants to leave behind.

My experience with Raven begs the question: what will my legacy be?


  1. Geschlechtsverkehr---Thanks for the great and poignant write-up of a man, and a run known and loved by so, so many. Hope to see you next Christmas break where tons of runners show up, and ROLL CALL is a BLAST! Raven calls out each and every runner, citing some accomplishment, or reciting a catch phrase, or poem or even singing in his Country Western way (Singer/Songwriter is his true calling). It's my favorite part of the run... but just remember, DEDICATION is just a PART of the RAVEN's personality--there's FRIENDLINESS, PASSION, COMPASSION, DEVOTION to OTHER, MOTIVATION, INSPIRATION... any positive thing you could say, it's all about the RAVEN.

    1. Hi Dennis, thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting.

      I should have been more clear: the German pronunciation is all but impossible for those who don't speak the language, and so we settled on the English "Gender Traffic" as my nickname.

      It is an honor to be a part - however small - of this community Raven has built up over the past 40 years. I really hope I can do it again over Christmas. Even my wife has talked about running now that I've talked it up so much!

      Absolutely agree - I only spent a few hours with him but it's so clear how much friendliness, passion, devotion, etc. he embodies. What an amazing person.

  2. Well that's awesome, Scott! I'm glad it was just the 2 of you instead of a hoard of runners. Should I refer to you as 'der Geschlechtsverkehr' or 'Gender Traffic'?

    1. Hey Shawn, thanks for reading! If you can pronounce the German without sounding like you're sneezing or choking, then I hereby deputize you to use it.

  3. Hey Scott,
    wish I had known about the "Raven Run" some 20 months ago! Spent a week in Miami Beach couple of blocks north of the 5th pier in November 2013 and would have loved to do those 8 miles. Not sure what nickname I would've ended up with (but "Gender Traffic" is hard to beat!).
    Have a great rest of summer,

    1. That's too bad that you missed it, but hopefully you'll be back in the area some day. I guess I'm lucky I have family down that way and am in the area once or twice a year. I'm now wondering what Stevie's nickname will be if she joins us next time.

  4. Ha! What a day, great story! I have always enjoyed you blog

    1. Hey Joe, thanks for being the one to tell me about the Raven Run in the first place!

  5. Terrific Post Scott!! Thoroughly Enjoyed!! as always!!!

  6. The 1st part of your write up caused me a great deal of stress! 1. I suggested this stranger do this run, and a great deal of planning and effort went into getting there, then the Raven is a no show? 2. Has something happened to the Raven? 3. Could this Raven and his running streak be untrue?? But, obviously the story ended very well.....

    1. I was thinking "Oh my god did I happen to show up on the very day his streak ended?!"


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