This is a picture of my toe still messed up one week after running an unplanned ‘half-marathon’ on Miami Beach.
It wasn’t an official half-marathon. I didn’t wear a number. I didn’t have any means to hydrate. No watch either.
And only about 11 other runners ran with me.
We were there because of one man: Robert “Raven” Kraft: The real-life Forrest Gump of streak running.
He has over 36 years of running 8 miles every day on the sand.
111,111.11 miles and counting.
ESPN was there when he crossed the 100,000 mark.
It starts out as a normal outing to 41st Street beach with Bridget.
We throw our blankets on the sand and wait for nothing.
Typical beach day.
Waiting for nothing.
Planes keep circling above us with trailing letters.
These planes, I think, are better than vultures. I think, At least they’re here because we’re alive.
Typical beach thought.
I say, “Hey, it’s January 1st and we’re on the beach. Happy 2013.”
Bridget says, “Happy 2013.”
Time passes, us staring out at the horizon, losing ourselves in the moment.
I say, “I’m going for a quick run. Not all the way down to Government Cut. Probably just the W Hotel. About 3 miles roundtrip.”
Bridget says, “OK. I’ll wait for you here.”
I walk away to the ‘hard’ sand and stretch my ankles, calves, thighs, and lower back.
You’re seated on our blanket, your back toward me, reading a magazine and eating pistachio nuts.
My energies focus to the south, and I start running.
The W Hotel comes fast.
I feel fresh, like I could run more, so I keep running.
Running toward me, coming from the south, a tall girl in a baseball cap.
Her white thong glows under her white yoga pants.
I look east at the ocean surf, lines of waves riding over the sea.
A group of kids play soccer with a ball made out of rags.
A guy reads his kindle in the shade of a parasol on a chaise lounge with a cushion.
He probably paid $20 for the luxury of that chaise and that shade.
The girl next to him adjusts her thong. She isn’t wearing a top, her body the same color all over.
He probably paid $20 for her luxury, too.
A parade of girls and guys wearing gray formal wear and no shoes stands around a girl in a wedding dress.
The guy she’s marrying has green and yellow pumas.
He’s the only one with shoes.
I think of avocado, of BP, of Brazil.
Life happens. Seems like it will always happen. I hope it does.
Without much exertion I reach Government Cut. My body sweats in my gray swimming trunks.
Probably my butt sweats a line down the middle, out of sight and yet plainly in sight.
A girl and guy sit on a bench, staring out at the water, fully dressed.
A cigarette boat with loud bass and a boatload of passengers idles by.
Everyone’s having fun.
The girl and guy hold hands, meaning to say, “We’re forever.”
She says, “That’s Fisher Island over there. I used to clean people’s houses there. Everyone’s rich on that island.”
He says, “Exclusive.”
I think, Exclusive and excluded are almost the same word.
I sit on the ground and stretch my legs.
A mother speaking Spanish tends her 2 children in a stroller.
The father has a camera around his neck. He takes action shots of her tending their children.
She bends over the stroller and her jeans drop from the crouch.
I see the upper strings of her thong.
She stands straight and swings her hips side to side, lifting her jeans as she swings.
Her children are dark and calm.
It’s time to run back to Bridget.
Under the last lifeguard tower on South Beach I touch the word stenciled on its side – JETTY – and I grin.
Superstition drives me in small ways.
I start running north. My knees feel stiff after my cool down.
Warm up, I think. I think, Warm up body, warm up.
About halfway back I see a cluster of runners ahead.
I recognize the runner in the middle. Unmistakable. Black shorts and black ankle braces.
Black wrist brace on his right arm and a roll of papers in his other.
I say, “That’s Raven.”
And I keep running at my normal pace until I catch up with the group.
Raven sees me and smiles, nods.
I say, “Hey, Raven.”
He says, “I know you. You’ve run before.”
[Read about this run here]
I say, “I have, but not the full 8.”
He says, “You’re from Texas.”
I say, “Not originally. I’m from here, Miami, but me and my fiancé moved to Texas 3 years ago.”
He says, “I knew I recognized you. What did I name you? I can’t remember.”
I say, “I don’t know.”
And he’s put off by this remark.
Another runner says, “No one forgets the nickname Raven gives you.”
I say, “You can give me another one.”
He says, “I don’t give two.”
I remain silent, pretty sure he never gave me a nickname. A runner gets in between me and Raven. I drift to the left, ashamed for no reason.
Raven senses my exclusion.
He says, “Are you going to run with us today?”
I say, “Well, I’ve already run from 41st Street to Government Cut and back up to here.”
He says, “I’ll give you credit for that. It’s about 5 miles.”
I say, “In that case, I’ll run with you.”
And then, feeling more assertive, I say, “And you never gave me a name. I only ran part of the way last time. I ran with Gringo.”
Raven says, “Gringo. He’s our most popular runner.”
I say, “How’s he?”
He says, “Good. He still comes out and runs. 73 years old.”
I say, “And a cancer survivor, right?”
He says, “Yeah.”
I say, “So can I get a name this time?”
Raven tells stories as he runs.
While a cluster of people run with him, some people run faster, others slower.
These runners say hi whenever they pass us moving in the opposite direction.
We run up to Espanola Way and back to Government Cut.
Back and forth, getting closer to totaling 8 miles.
Raven knows everyone by name. He has a great memory. Seems to remember everything, not just their nicknames but how many runs they have under their belts and their birthdays.
He tells the story of Taxman.
He says, “Taxman introduces himself to women by telling them he pays $750,000 a year in taxes. None of them find it impressive.”
Soon I’m back to Government Cut, touching a wooden railing Raven made sacred.
Hubris, one of the runners, says, “Wood is good.”
This is a saying the group made up. I like it.
Raven tells the story of Chanter, who ran to the wood but didn’t touch it.
Chanter got in an argument with another runner who saw him not touch the wood.
This mistake cost Chanter not just the run, but also got him kicked out of the group.
And he got his nickname changed from Chanter to Ranter.
Moral: No arguments allowed on Raven Run.
Raven Run is about peace. How else can you carry your body like a vessel across the sand for 8 miles every day?
Raven says, “Where in Texas do you live?”
I say, “Austin. I’m a math tutor there.”
Raven says, “But you were born here?”
I say, “Yeah. Were you born here?”
Raven says, “No, but I moved here when I was 5.”
I say, “You haven’t left the island?”
Raven says, “Just to go watch the Marlins play. I threw out the first pitch in their new stadium.”
I say, “Wow.”
There’s a girl in thong on the JETTY lifeguard tower. Another girl takes pictures of her from the sand.
The girl in thong sits on the railing for one picture.
Her hair blows in the ocean breeze.
For another picture she puts her elbows on the railing and sticks out her butt.
We run by the lifeguard and it’s like a dream.
Raven says, “Do you have a nickname.”
I say, “I write under the name herocious.”
Raven asks me to spell it.
Raven says, “I like that. Did you hear that Chapter 11, he writes under herocious?”
Chapter 11 says, “Ah, a nom de guerre, nice.”
Raven says, “There goes Butcher. He ran 154 runs last year.”
Butcher, a faster runner, runs by us going the opposite direction.
Somehow I drift from Raven to another runner, a woman with two children and a husband.
She’s from Jacksonville, but she’s in Miami Beach on vacation.
She runs a spin cycle class in Jacksonville.
Her gym is called Sole Spin.
Raven likes that. He nicknames her ‘Sole Spin’ and she’s happy with her nickname.
Her other job is being a flight attendant for charter planes.
A couple days ago she was in St. Martin.
I say, “I’ve been there. The French beaches are pretty chill.”
She says, “You mentioned you were a writer?”
I say, “I have one book. It’s called Austin Nights.”
And I spell it out for her:
She says, “This year I made a resolution to keep a diary.”
I say, “Do you write down your feelings or observations.”
She says, “Feelings so far.”
I say, “That can be therapeutic.”
She says, “It’s been great, but it’s only January 1st.”
We run in silence. Small voices filter through the wind.
I say, “You’re cruising on the sand.”
She says, “It’s these shoes. It’s like I’m running on a pillow.”
I say, “What kind of shoes are they?”
She says, “Hoka Shoes. H-O-K-A.”
I say, “I always get bad blood blisters after long runs.”
She says, “What kind of socks are you wearing?”
I say, “I don’t know. Just Nike socks.”
She says, “You should get Smart Wool socks. You’re toes won’t rub together so much.”
I say, “Wool socks, huh? That makes sense. These are cotton.”
Soon I can’t keep up with her. We’re far ahead of Raven and have no idea how much more we have to go.
I slow down and eventually stop, wait for Raven.
He’s running with a girl he nicknamed Runaday.
I say, “I waited up for you.”
Raven says, “Thanks.”
And the three of us run. A guy joins us. His name is Sagamore, after the hotel he works in.
Sagamore runs ahead of us and takes our picture.
I feel dehydrated. My knees are sore. My right instep is in pain.
We’re running back to Government Cut.
The sun is going down.
I say, “Wood is good.”
I touch the wood after Raven, and we start running north.
This is crazy, I think. I think, Bridget must be worried about me.
I say, “My fiancé must be wondering where I am. I’ve been gone for a long time.”
I say this to no one in particular, hoping someone will tell me what I need to hear.
But I don’t know what I need to hear.
Raven says, “When were you born?”
I say, “September 7th, 1979.”
Raven says, “You have a palindromic birthday. You’re the second runner with a palindromic birthday.”
I say, “I’ve never realized that. And I graduated college in 2002.”
Raven says, “I’d name you Palindrome but it’s already taken.”
I’m still wondering what he’s going to nickname me.
We get to Lincoln Road, and my spirit is ragged.
I say, “Look, Raven, you remember I already ran 5 miles before I met up with you?”
Raven says, “You get credit for that.”
I say, “Because I’m pretty tired. Don’t think I can make it back. I’m stopping here. Can I still get a nickname?”
Raven says, “That’s cool. You made it into my book. Everyone: this is herocious, runner 1,738! Come out tomorrow, herocious, run with us again.”
I say, “I will. Bye everyone.”
But, truth is, I don’t think I’ll be able to move much tomorrow.
Alone and flagged, I wend my way to the boardwalk.
I need some water, I think. I think, I’m going to ask that security guard at that hotel for water.
She gets off her phone when she sees me. I lean on the railing and catch my breath.
I say, “Do you know Raven?”
She shakes her head.
I say, “He runs on the beach every day. I just ran with him without planning on it. I feel dehydrated. I’ve run like 12 miles. Can you ask someone for water?”
She says, “I can’t leave my post.”
I say, “Can you ask that guy over there then to please get me some water?”
She waves the guy down and asks him.
He looks me over. Seems wary of my presence.
He walks to the bar and brings back a plastic cup with ice water.
I say, “Thank you. Happy New Year.”
And I start walking north. I haven’t even gotten to the W Hotel yet. I probably have ~2 miles before I get to 41st street.
My body hobbles. It’s painful to move. My hipbones hurt most.
I think, My carriage is broken.
The water disappears fast.
At another hotel I see a waiter cleaning up after a party. Tons of uneaten food gets thrown onto his tray. There’s a glass full of water on the table.
I say, “Do you know Raven?”
He shakes his head.
I say, “Can you just give me that glass of water there so I can pour it into my cup? I just ran 12 miles.”
He looks at the glass of water and then looks at me.
He says, “I can get you fresh water.”
I say, “That would be great.”
He takes my plastic cup and fills it with water at the bar.
A man and a woman are staring at me as I wait for my water.
He has shiny shoes, linen shirt.
She has sandals, pedicured toes.
They whisper something while looking at me.
They nod back.
The waiter returns with my water.
I say, “Thanks, Happy New Year.”
People zoom by on Segway rentals.
I stick out my thumb and ask for a ride.
None of them stop.
It’s dark when I hit the wooden boardwalk that spans all of Mid-Beach.
A queue of police officers on mountain bikes speeds south.
Otherwise, no bikes are allowed on the boardwalk.
I begin to worry Bridget will have already left, abandoning me for my reckless disappearance.
Or maybe she will have called the police, reported me missing.
I don’t know.
Marijuana smoke finds my nose. I turn in all directions to see if I can find the source.
I think about what I’m going to tell Bridget.
I had to make an executive decision, I think. I think, I’ve always wanted to run with Raven, couldn’t pass up the chance.
Orthodox Jews populate the boardwalk.
The guys are dressed in suits. The girls in dresses that fall to their ankles and long-sleeve sweaters.
I chew on my last ice cube, throw out the plastic cup.
In the distance is the 41st Street gazebo.
I see you sitting alone under the lightbulb, our beach bag packed and ready to go.
I feel relief.
You stand and walk toward me, visibly upset because of my unplanned ~4 hour absence.