Miami Beach resident finds solace in beach running

Posted December 5, 2012

By BOLTON LANCASTER
School of Communication
University of Miami

At 4 p.m., Robert “Raven” Kraft leaves his apartment on South Beach dressed in a black jacket, black jeans and a black sweatband tied around his forehead.

As he walks towards the beach, locals say hello to him and tourists recognize him from the pieces that ESPN and HBO have done on him. After hoisting himself over the low wall that separates the paved sidewalk from the sand, he slowly starts jogging towards the water. There are already about five people waiting for him at the 5th Street lifeguard station, and several more people show up before the group takes off on their daily run.

Robert “Raven” Kraft runs towards the 5th Street lifeguard station on South Beach where he meets up with other people who come out to take part in the daily “Raven Run.” The group meets around 5 p.m. during Daylight Saving Time and around 4 p.m. when it is not Daylight Saving Time (Photo by Robert Bennett).

Robert “Raven” Kraft runs towards the 5th Street lifeguard station on South Beach where he meets up with other people who come out to take part in the daily “Raven Run.” The group meets around 5 p.m. during Daylight Saving Time and around 4 p.m. when it is not Daylight Saving Time (Photo by Robert Bennett).

In a city that has gone through incredible change in the last 37 years, one thing has remained constant:

This man has run eight miles on the beach every single day since 1975.

“I was running two, five, seven miles. I got up to eight and noticed every time I took a day off – I’d run a week, then two weeks and take a day off – I never felt right,” Kraft said. “I said I wanted to go one year without missing a day – one year.”

After moving to Miami Beach from New Jersey with his mother when he was five, Kraft spent most of his life growing up in South Beach. As he grew older, he started developing a passion that he still holds on to closely: country songwriting. In 1968, Kraft was working at a casino in Las Vegas and saw Waylon Jennings perform. This helped fuel the passion that developed when he was 15.

This same passion drove Kraft to move to Nashville when he was 19 and try to make it as a professional songwriter. After loading boxes at a department store in Miami Beach for five months, he saved enough money to take a Greyhound bus to Nashville.

“I got a room one block away from the Grand Ole Opry,” Kraft said. “And within one day I met Johnny Cash at his TV show taping.”

Kraft knew that he wanted to go to “The Johnny Cash Show” before he even moved to Nashville. People were able to get free tickets to his show, but Kraft had to stand in the cold for five hours to get his in 1970. After the show, Cash was in an alleyway behind the studio meeting fans and signing autographs. When Kraft finally got a chance to talk to him, he told Cash that he was a songwriter. This was the first of many meetings between the two, as Kraft would wait outside the studio for him every week.

“He never knew my name. He used to always call me ‘Buddy,’ but we’d see each other,” Kraft said. “Every week he’d wave me over.”

Kraft does push-ups in the sand before his run on South Beach. While he is more recognized for his daily run, he also does upper body exercises every day at the workout bars on the beach. He is capable of doing 60 push-ups in a row without stopping (Photo by Robert Bennett).

Kraft does push-ups in the sand before his run on South Beach. While he is more recognized for his daily run, he also does upper body exercises every day at the workout bars on the beach. He is capable of doing 60 push-ups in a row without stopping (Photo by Robert Bennett).

One week, Cash even invited Kraft into the studio when they were in the middle of shooting material for the show. Kraft also met both June Carter and Cash’ father during his time in Nashville.

One night, Kraft waited outside for Cash to show up, hoping to show Cash some lyrics that he had been working on. Cash came outside with another songwriter at his side and suggested that Kraft give his lyrics to the songwriter, who would be able to help him with the lyrics. The songwriter took the song and pocketed it, with Kraft not thinking much about it at the time.

Kraft returned to Miami Beach shortly after during the summer of 1970. Four months later, he heard a song on the radio being performed by Waylon Jennings and the lyrics sounded familiar. He realized that it was the song that he wrote.

“I called the radio station and asked whose name was on the record,” Kraft said. “It was not my name. It was the name that Johnny Cash gave the song to.”

Kraft went from an all-time high to an all-time low in a matter of seconds. He thought that he had fulfilled a lifelong dream only to find out that he had not been given credit for his own work. He still does not tell people the name of the man who stole his song or what the song was, saying that he has moved on and does not like to think about the past and the bitterness that came with it.

This incident upset Kraft for two year, until he started running with fighters from the famous 5th Street Gym in 1972.

“They invited me to run and that’s when my anger subsided,” Kraft said. “It was the running.”

Kraft even ran three blocks with Muhammad Ali one morning. As Kraft was walking home from work at 7 a.m., he saw Ali jogging down Collins Avenue shadow boxing. Kraft picked up his work bag and ran with Ali for three blocks before Ali turned around, threw a couple of shadowboxing jabs in Kraft’s direction, and continued running.

A group of “Raven runners” begin their eight-mile run from the 5th Street lifeguard station. At the beginning of every run, Kraft does a roll call of all the runners and the nicknames that he has given them (Photo by Robert Bennett).

A group of “Raven runners” begin their eight-mile run from the 5th Street lifeguard station. At the beginning of every run, Kraft does a roll call of all the runners and the nicknames that he has given them (Photo by Robert Bennett).

Jan. 1, 1975, was the first day that Kraft started his eight-mile run. He originally planned on just running every day for one year, but what started out as a New Year’s resolution turned into a lifelong journey.

Kraft has run through hurricanes and hailstorms, often enduring the run through diseases and serious injuries. He first started receiving press coverage seven years into doing the run, with The Miami Herald publishing a story about how he did his run even though he recently had stitches put in his head.

Kraft remembers an older woman saying to him, “Man, they must be really desperate for stories if they did a story on you.”

He simply kept on running and slowly began to get more publicity. In 1997, the publication Runner’s World did a story on him, which started bringing people from all over the country that wanted to run with Raven.

“I started getting a ton of runners then,” Kraft said. “Instead of one per month it was like one per week.”

International publications started doing stories on the streak and Kraft started receiving even more recognition. ESPN decided to do a piece on Kraft in 2008 when he hit the 100,000-mile mark. This culminated in the biggest Raven Run ever with nearly 280 people. HBO also did a program that focused on Kraft in 2011.

What started as a one man’s escape from anger and bitterness has turned into a positive force for more than 1,700 people who have now gone on the run. The route of the run alters between four different paths. One route goes north up to 47th Street before turning around. A different route involves running back and forth between streets to the north and the pier to the south.

Kraft records every person who goes on the run, tracking the number of runs they have completed and even giving them a nickname after they have completed their first run.

“It’s kept me in shape and probably saved my life,” said John Parker, who has been running with Kraft for more than 12 years. “My family has a history of heart attacks. Nobody made it to 60 years old, and here I am coming up on 77 in February.”

The effects of the run are far reaching: it has helped people stay in shape, stay disciplined and stay out of jail. One couple even met and married each other on the run.

“He’s a really sweet, intelligent man who has changed so many lives on the beach and has helped so many people get through all types of problems,” said Mary Beth Koeth, who has been running with Raven for about a year and is currently in the process of making a documentary on him.

“This man’s doing something that isn’t going to last forever,” Koeth said. “The run’s not always going to be here and he’s not always going to be here. I can’t imagine that ending without his story being told.”

While many doctors have advised Kraft to stop running because of the physical tolls that it has taken on his body, Kraft does not plan on stopping the run anytime soon.

“I’d like for it to go on, but you never know what’s going to happen,” Kraft said. “I’m not quitting. People say, ‘What are you training for?’ and I say ‘To come back tomorrow.’”

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