Iconic Miami Runner Raven to Run His 110,000th Mile Despite Increasing Health Problems

Raven Run Group 2008.JPG
RavenRun.net
"Clairvoyant," Raven, "Poutine," who holds the records for the longest consecutive streaks of running with Raven, "Hollywood Flasher" Front: "Cheesy," and "Freshman"
When I spoke to him, he had just gone to a doctor for his second epidural, and this one hadn't done much to numb the pain. His ligaments are so tight and toughened, he said, that the doctor had trouble even finding a place to stick the needle. "Every part of me is hard, except my heart, I hope," the Raven said. "I enjoy running and I enjoy the camaraderie. But I can't go as fast as I want to because the pain stops me, my breathing stops me. But I keep going, you know. And after two or three miles I'm almost normal. The endorphins kick in, the pain eases up."

The running has earned him a bit of fame -- he's been featured on ESPN, had countless articles written on him (including a New Times "Best Local Cult Icon" title in 2001), and was asked to throw out the first pitch at a Marlins game a few months ago, which he did, despite its unsettling disruption to his schedule. (He had to run a few hours earlier than his usual 5:30 start time.) He's also got one of the longest daily running streaks in the country, and has certainly racked up the most mileage of any other streakers. But all those years and miles trail behind him like heavy chains around his knotted ankles; he's built way too much tradition to stop now -- or ever.

"Hopefully, I just won't wake up," he said about the day when he finally can't run anymore.

Even some runners who have skated across the sand with Raven hundreds of times have perceived only the heroism of Raven's story, and not the darkness. A few months ago, I ran the Raven Run alongside a woman the Raven has nicknamed Sparrow. (Raven gives all his running companions nicknames.) As we rolled along, she told me about the more than 300 runs she had made with Kraft, and how he always remembered exactly how many miles she'd covered with him, and how he remembered everyone's birthday, even if they only showed up to run once. She smiled as she described these idiosyncrasies.

When I pointed out that Raven also shows signs of compulsive behavior, her face fell into confusion. "No, really?" she said. "Huh, well I guess he does have a bit of a hoarding problem," she said slowly, as though suddenly seeing the Raven from a new angle.

Raven admits to his hoarding issues, too. He bought his South Beach apartment a few decades ago and has trouble letting go of what he perceives as memorabilia. "I have a sunglass collection, just for fun, of sunglasses I found on the beach," he says. "I dread thinking about inspectors coming around. But I'm making progress. I just threw out three years of newspapers. I found some deflated volleyballs I found on the beach 20 years ago and I threw those out," he said.

Raven Portrait.jpg
Mary Beth Koeth
Robert "Raven" Kraft
Raven finds freedom from the burdens of life when he's out running on the sand. "It's like, as soon as I get out there, I'm suddenly a different person. My personality changes. I almost seem taller, stronger, bigger. It's my comfort zone, where I feel right. And once I start going, I feel good," he said. "It's my identity, it's who I am, it's what I do, and people come from all over the world and tell me their story, and I tell them my story. They say, 'I just had to come and meet you.' That's what keeps me going. They inspire me. And me, never missing a day, never stopping, never quitting, I inspire them. How can I quit?"

As the Raven shuffles to the 5th street lifeguard stand this August 23, set to run his 110,000th mile, pain and all, that'll be the question in the back of the minds of the people who care about him, even as they cheer him on: How -- and when -- can he quit?

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