Robert Kraft never travels. The 63-year old Miami Beach resident has never once flown or had a driver's license. In fact, he has not left Florida in more than 40 years.
But last week, he accumulated enough miles to make him elite by any standard.
“The sky got black and I knew it was going to be really bad. What am I doing? I could be at home playing with my cat or something."
- The Raven
With 33 runners at his side, he put on his running shoes, locked up his gear at the iconic 5th Street lifeguard station on South Beach and slowly began running, just as he's done every day for nearly four decades.
It was Wednesday, May 7, the 14,371st day --running an average of eight miles every day for nearly 40 years-- of what is now one of the longest streaks in running history. He’s clocked a lot of miles. Minutes into Wednesday’s run, Kraft noted his location, lifted his arms in the air and announced: "One hundred and fifteen thousand!"
What started out as a New Year’s resolution back in 1975 has now become a milestone for Miami’s famed “Raven” runner: The 115,000 mile club.
Through hurricanes and hailstorms, sickness and injuries, Kraft has become a South Beach legend, and a tourist draw. Early on, his friends dubbed him “Raven” because of his black clothes and late-night country songwriting he does when he’s not running. The name stuck.
Now almost 40 years in, Raven has a following of more than 2,000 runners from around the world, all who have completed the eight miles with him at least once. When a runner finishes, Raven officially assigns them a nickname. Gringo, Taxman and Dizzy are the all-time leaders, each having finished more than 1,600 runs.
But nobody will come close to Raven. According to the U.S. Running Streak Association, he is No. 8 on the all-time streak list, for running for 39.4 years. When it comes to daily distance though, he ranks first. No runner is on record having run this many consecutive daily miles for this many years.
For anyone wondering just how long he's run in total, it's the equivalent of 42 trips between Miami and Los Angeles. Here's another way to think about it. From Earth to the Moon is 238,000 miles. He's just 4,000 miles shy of running half the way there.
If there are doubts about just how difficult this streak is, try it out yourself: Run eight miles in the sand next time you’re at the beach. Then do it again the next day. And the next.
If not the physical pain, then the mental anguish is eventually enough to keep most from this amount of running. Add injuries into the mix and his streak seems super-human.
Back in 1979, he tore a ligament. “I was dragging for three months,” Raven said during a run along South Beach last month.
In April 1994, it was food poisoning. “You can hardly stand up,” he said. “You're just looking at the sand and you just want to lie down, close your eyes and never get up again.”
Did he mention the golf-ball sized hail during that same run? “The sky got black and I knew it was going to be really bad.” He survived by taking shelter at a lifeguard station, but it didn’t keep him from wondering, "What am I doing? I could be at home playing with my cat or something."
“Three doctors told me to quit 20 years ago,” he laughs. “So much for them. I don't know if they're still alive."
He’s more reliable than the Post Office and people on South Beach know it. A lifeguard, a group of windsurfers, a random beachgoer—all say hello to Raven as he runs by. They love him here.
“I realized I have this gift of stubbornness and determination and dedication and discipline I could share with people,” he says around four miles into his run.
But few people can understand the pain Raven is going through at this point of his running career. After all the miles, he suffers from Spinal Stenosis, a condition that he describes as “a burning, tingling pain down my hamstrings, calves and feet.”
"I'm just in pain all the time,” he said. “Just to walk home is an effort. I'm not living a normal life. …Washing my dishes, taking a shower, shaving-- everything is an effort."
It is not likely to get any better.
“Particularly as you get older, the recovery is much more difficult,” said Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon and editor at large of Runners World Magazine. “Neither I nor any running expert would advise anyone to run every day for forty years in a row,” he said. But he acknowledged runners like Raven are a different breed and he understands the mentality.
"At this stage, he's kind of enjoying his life as a living legend and I can understand that,” Burfoot said. "The challenge in running is to accept changes as they come along with age.”
For Raven, every run is a double-edged sword. He hurts because he runs. But he only begins to feel better a few miles into each run. Often, he feels better at the end than he did at the start.
His next big milestone is December 31, when he’ll reach the 40-year mark. He says he’d be at peace if the streak ended there.
“The next goal is really tomorrow,” he lamented. "So many days, I've said to myself, 'this could be the last day.’ …Somehow I do it."
Surgery will be the next step, but he wants to hold off as long as possible. In the meantime, he stretches, works out, does physical therapy and even drinks a health potion given to him by a friend. None of it helps the pain.
It’s a matter of time and Raven knows it. And while he hasn’t made any post-streak plans, music is on his mind. He’s been sending his country songs to Nashville publishers for years, hoping for a big break. He released an album of his own music a few years back, appropriately named “Unstoppable.” The first title on it : “The Road is Long.”
“If I ever go anywhere, I’d like to go to Nashville to pick up a music award,” he said.
But for now, he’ll stay on South Beach, where he does not need a plane ticket or a driver license. Eight miles a day is far enough, he said.
“I try to appreciate and be grateful for getting this far. There aren’t too many people who have gotten this far.”
Dan Gallo is a field producer at the Fox News Channel Los Angeles Bureau. He ran with Raven last month. Raven and his runners meet at the 5th Street Lifeguard Station on South Beach every day at 5:15p.