Run Oregon loves inspirational runners. No matter your pace, reading about someone else’s running journey – especially when they’ve accomplished something amazing or overcome a huge obstacle – likely makes you want to lace up and head out. So when I was offered the chance to read an advance copy of Running With Raven by Laura Lee Huttenbach, not only did I want to read it, but I wanted to hear what our favorite local streaker, Paula Harkin, thought about it. In this post, you’ll get my thoughts on the book; tomorrow you can read what Paula thought about it.
Raven is Robert “Raven” Kraft, a Miami-born-and-raised runner who has been running 8 miles a day since 1975. 8 miles a day on the beach, through hot summer sun and brutal hurricane-force winds, often followed up with a swim. And he has remembered the Raven-awarded nicknames of every runner who has completed those 8 miles with him, even filing away details such as those runners’ jobs, children’s names, and other fun details. You might have a picture in your head of a super-fit former marine, or a retired yoga instructor … get those pictures out of your head. Raven, an unlikely running champion, came by his running streak in a moment of passion for life, and he never looked back.
It’s been more than 40 years since Raven’s running streak started, and as you’ll find in the book, he’s run through his share of health challenges. Many runners can probably relate, so I asked Huttenbach not about when Raven plans to end the streak, but just how he’s doing. She said, “Raven still endures chronic back pain, and running is the only thing that loosens him up. When the endorphins kick in after mile three, he usually feels his best. Many runners are trying to convince Raven to decrease his daily mileage, but so far he’s sticking to eight.”
Through his running streak, Raven has cobbled together a network of amazing people and built a support network of unlikely teammates. Raven’s Runners do not fit a mold. Rather, they break the mold, and through her book, Huttenbach describes how Raven’s Run – the 8-mile beach run every afternoon – is changing lives. I asked her how meeting – and getting to know – Raven changed her perspective about running. “Before I met Raven, I considered running a pretty solitary sport,” said Huttenbach. “The exercise quieted my writer’s mind, and it was meditative. But through Raven, I saw that running could be social, too, where I could connect with people that shared at least two similar interests—fitness and Raven. There was nothing competitive about the Raven Run. People showed up for exercise, friends, and stories.”
Huttenbach’s unique way of weaving together Raven’s personal story with background information builds the story slowly, letting you get to know all of the characters with peeks into their history. Rather than lay Raven’s story out chronologically, she introduces his story piece by piece, and you get to know him through the book similarly to the way you’d get to know him over logging mile after mile with him. Similar to the way you often find out the most interesting details of a person’s life after only 500 miles, it’s not until you’re well into the book that you start to understand where Raven’s been and the reasons he runs.
I asked Huttenbach if there’s another amazing character – maybe a runner – in her writing future, and she said, “I’m usually drawn into stories by a character that surprises me. Recently, I stumbled across from documents left behind by my great-grandfather, who was a merchant in Sumatra, Indonesia in the late nineteenth century. I’m currently poking around that history. But I expect running—and therefore runners—will always be a big part of my life, so I’m very open to new stories from that world.” She sounds like the type of runner that could make a 20-miler feel like a 5k with all her good stories.
A local runner who has also changed lives is Paula Harkin. I first met Paula more than 10 years ago when I moved to Tigard and joined someone I’d just met (and later became a close friend) at a Portland Running Company group run. Owned by Paula and her husband Dave, PRC is a running store that creates community through group runs and events, and through the Harkins’ infection enthusiasm for running and runners. The year before I got married, Paula started a running streak, so I joined her and in 2010 I ran at least a mile every single day of the year (plus a few more for good measure). My streak ended before I made it to 300 days, but Paula is still going: she will reach 3,000 days on March 19, 2017. Paula also brings people together, the way Raven does; tomorrow we’ll post her thoughts on the inspiring book Running with Raven.
If you’d like to get to know Raven for yourself, you can preorder a copy of Running With Raven by Laura Lee Huttenbach online here. The Kindle version is available for $11.99 and the paperback hardcopy is $25, and will be delivered on April 25, 2017.