An Overworked Mind Finds Peace (My First Raven Run)

A light rain grew stronger as my wife and I checked into our Mid-Beach hotel. Once we were up in our room, I changed into my running shorts, took a small portion of a caffeine pill, and then ate a bit of a granola bar. I reclined on the bed and stretched. I was a little worried, nervous that my legs wouldn’t hold up for eight miles of beach running because I’d overdone it two days earlier by going for an eight-mile morning run and then a four-mile afternoon run (we’d just arrived in Miami to start our vacation the night before, and I’d had some extra adrenaline to work off, I guess).

I was also anxious about running in a group, since I’d never done that before. My runs were always solitary affairs, solo journeys fueled by whatever dreams and demons I harbored that day and by emotionally stirring music from my MP3 player. A few years back, shortly after quitting antianxiety medications, my office job, and cigarettes (in that order), I began running in earnest. A half mile at first, then a 5K, then a 10K, and then a little more. Daily runs became very private and meaningful crucibles for me, challenges with high stakes that only I could truly understand.

My runs became soul-cleansing journeys that I could embark on at any time. And I did embark on them at any time, weather be damned. I ran in scorching summer heat, torrential rains, shrapnel-like sleet, dizzying winds, and even a tornado. My runs were like mini adventure movies that I was writing, directing, acting out, and then storing in the archives of my mind and soul for all time. They were filled with passion, anger, tears, hope, and creative inspiration. Much like the actual Hollywood movies that I enjoyed the most, my runs were, to steal an oft-used phrase from cinema reviewers, “life affirming.”

Maybe I was hoping to find life affirmation on this thing called the Raven Run, although that sounded overly dramatic. Maybe I just wanted to meet the man whose story had resonated with me in such a strange way when I’d picked up the book Running with Raven from my local library a year earlier. Although separated by age and geography and various other life circumstances, this Raven and I seemed to have things in common.

Like Raven, I possessed the soul of both an artist and a runner, a sensitive soul that needed creativity, freedom, and daily shots of inspiration and adrenaline. Raven was passionate about writing, and so was I. He penned country-western ballads, and I composed short stories, spiritual devotions, and novel attempts. Also, we both knew the ineffable value of a workout streak, the emotional connection a person could forge with it. In 2016 I didn’t miss a day of cardio or weightlifting, and Raven, well . . . his ongoing running streak was nearly beyond comprehension.

I was looking forward to meeting this South Beach legend. It seemed like something I needed to do. I was looking forward to running with him, getting to know him a little.

But what about group runs, I wondered. What was the protocol for a group run?

“Do you think it’s okay to listen to music?” I’d asked my wife. “I only saw one other person wearing headphones in the pictures I found online. And how am I supposed to carry on a conversation if I’m out of breath? Everyone talks during these runs, I think. Raven asks questions about your life so that he can give you a nickname if you complete the entire eight miles. How, exactly, am I supposed to talk if I’m out of breath?”

With these and other run-related wonderings swirling through my head, Claudia and I exited the hotel. The sand was slightly damp when we stepped out of our Uber ride and onto the beach entrance near the Fifth Street lifeguard stand, which is the starting point for every Raven Run.

“Is there a bathroom anywhere?” I asked. Aware of the importance of proper hydration, I’d been drinking bottled water all afternoon, and I knew that a certain piper would be calling me shortly to demand payment.

“No,” Claudia answered quickly and with certainty, her tone heavy with spousal authority. “There aren’t any bathrooms on the beach. I remember that from our Miami trip last year.” She seemed a bit harried, perhaps worn down from my ceaseless run-related questions, our quick hotel check-in, and our last-minute debate about whether to take an Uber or a pair of Citi Bikes to the run’s South Beach starting point. “Are you sure this is the lifeguard stand you were talking about?”

“Positive,” I answered, although I didn’t see any other runners within fifty yards of the littoral yellow, white, and blue tower that read Miami Beach. But I wasn’t overly worried. Since it was only 4:20 p.m., we still had ten minutes until Raven’s supposed arrival time (the run begins at 4:30 p.m. every day, until daylight savings springs the clock forward, then the start time is 5:30 p.m.).

“Wait, here comes another guy.”

The newcomer approached the vicinity of the lifeguard stand hesitantly, looking as tentative and uncertain as I felt. He was about my age, wore a visor and running shoes, and was also traveling with his wife (and with his grade-school-aged son). “Here for the run?” we asked each other, and then we made awkward small talk and stretched as our wives began to chat easily, as women—even upon meeting for the first time—are often likely to do. We tossed a small football around with his son, and every sixty seconds or so—from the corners of our hopeful eyes—we scanned up and down the beach, looking for signs of Raven. But nothing.

4:28 p.m. 4:29 p.m. Still nothing.

“I wonder if this will be the day he finally doesn’t show up,” I joked nervously.

But then a familiar-looking figure—a figure I recognized from his book cover—came jogging toward the lifeguard stand, looking a little more like a castaway than a fitness legend. He was sporting well-worn dark jeans and a weathered sable jacket that was splayed open to reveal an imposing bush of black-and-gray chest hair. He wore a headband, tinted glasses, a beard, and a pompadour mullet sort of hairdo that seemed equal parts curious and intimidating when encountered in person.

This man kind of looked like Ben Stiller’s character in the movie Dodgeball, if that character had been older and more mysterious.

Raven chatted with the lifeguard about local goings-on as he removed his jacket and then stripped out of his jeans to reveal running shorts. He was in great shape, surprisingly chiseled for a man approaching seventy. “Looks like we have a couple of new runners here today,” he said as he eyed me and the day’s other fresh arrival. The Raven Run is an open-invitation affair—anyone can participate by simply showing up—and its founder no doubt evaluates newcomers curiously most every day, wondering if they’ll be strong enough to finish his sandy miles.

A few Raven Run regulars arrived (at 4:30 p.m. precisely, it seemed) and after greetings and some casual stretching, Raven gave the okay to begin the day’s main event.

We started jogging at an easy pace in the direction of the South Pointe Pier as Raven officially kicked things off with his daily Roll Call, a ritual where he gives a shout-out to veterans who have already earned their nicknames and then acknowledges the presence of any newcomers. He jovially introduced two men, Hitter and Lobotomy, and two female runners, Poutine and Plantain Lady (all Raven Run veterans are known by their nicknames only). Plantain Lady had her own song, which Raven smoothly and soulfully crooned as a part of her introduction. I can’t recall all of it, but it went something like this:

“She doesn’t run in wind, she doesn’t run in rain, she only eats plantains, sheeee’s Plantaaiin Lady.”

“And from Wisconsin, hoping to complete his first run, we have Mike,” Raven said. I smiled and gave a small wave to our group as I felt the need to urinate creeping up inside of me. No big deal, I told myself. Only 7.8 miles to go. Just don’t think about water too much. But I knew that such advice wouldn’t be easy to follow, given that we were running alongside the Atlantic Ocean.

“So, I’ve got to ask you something,” Lobotomy said as he moved to run alongside me. “About those cheese heads in Wisconsin? Do they come in different sizes, or is it a one-size-fits-all deal?” He gave a good-natured laugh and then waited for my answer with a mischievous-but-warm smirk on his face. Throughout the run, Lobotomy always seemed to be smirking, laughing, and joking. “He sometimes says inappropriate things,” Raven later admitted to me, “but he means well.”

“I honestly have never worn a cheese head,” I told Lobotomy. “I’m familiar with them, but I’ve never worn one. And I really hope that everyone outside of Wisconsin doesn’t get their impressions of our citizenry from watching Packers-game crowds on TV.”

And just like that, I’d engaged in my first bit of group-run conversation. It hadn’t been so difficult after all.

As the run would proceed, conversation and banter would become progressively easier. Baseball trivia would be played (I would throw the other runners a softball question about Wisconsin’s own Bob Ueker), anecdotes about interesting South Beach personalities would be told, and personal stories—some revealingly personal—would be shared. And through it all, Raven would act as the fulcrum of the interaction and the undisputed master of ceremonies.

“You might have read about this in the book, Mike,” Raven would say before launching into a story about Killer or Butcher or some other colorful figure who had become a part of his run over the years. And I would return the conversational volley by asking Raven to follow up on something I had indeed read about in Laura Lee Huttenbach’s 2017 narrative about Raven and his running streak.

“I couldn’t believe the one about Handshoe,” I would say, nudging Raven to tell the story about how this borderline personality from Nazi Germany had once run down South Beach with a dead rat in his mouth. “Now is that the guy that was in prison for drug dealing,” I would ask after some other story, “or was he the bodybuilder?”

Raven talked about all of these unique personalities with humor and fondness, and he talked about himself, too. He lamented, more than once, the absence of a strong father figure in his life. The son of the day’s other newbie runner had tagged along with us, and Raven made sure to remind the boy to cherish this time spent bonding with his father. The man and his wife, both Navy people, had left their home in Hawaii to travel around the continental States in an RV, and they were homeschooling the son, bringing him along on all sorts of adventures (everyone on the Raven Run has a story). “It’s really great that you guys are doing this together,” Raven said. “You’re going to remember this when you’re older.”

As the miles slowly moved into my rearview mirror—Raven runs at an easy pace these days due to chronic pain—and as the endorphins filled my body and the sweat moved down my forehead and back and legs, something opened up inside of me. Something about the ocean air and the easy-but-challenging pace of the run acted as a social lubricant, much the same as alcohol might in another situation. I began to talk to Raven about more personal topics, such as our shared astrological sign (our birthdays are a few days apart in October).

“You know, I never really believed there was much to that stuff,” I admitted, “but then I read something that you said in the book that changed my mind.”

“Oh yeah,” Raven said. “What was that?”

“You said that Libras have a hard time making decisions. That’s me, for sure. Sometimes I feel paralyzed by the prospect of making a decision, even if it isn’t something big.

Sometimes I’ll even need to have a couple of beers before I can make one.”

Raven nodded. “Years ago I simplified things so that I don’t have to make many decisions,” he said. “I never have to decide what I’ll wear on any given day, because I’ll always wear black. And I never have to decide what I’m going to do with a day, because I’m going to go running.”

I laughed, but I knew that within this “joke” of Raven’s there was mostly just truth, a truth about Raven’s life that might strike some people as lamentable but that I found both peace-inducing and inspiring. A person really could simplify life instead of just paying lip service to this fashionable idea. You don’t like complications and making decisions? Then just nestle into a comfortable routine and stick to it.

Stick with what makes you happy: You don’t have to justify it to anyone.

Some people would say that Raven’s story is a bit sad because his every day is enslaved by routine with a capital R—the routine of his run. Those same people might say that Raven’s world is a shrunken one because of how geographically limited it is: He absolutely must be on South Beach every afternoon at a certain time, no exceptions. He can’t travel the world or even travel to a restaurant on the other side of town between the hours of five and eight at night.

But who cares? I say. This man doesn’t need to travel the world to find fulfillment and adventure. Because of what his daily eight-mile run has inspired in others over the years—because of what his dedication and fitness devotion have inspired in others—the world now travels to find him. His Raven Run is adventure. It is fulfillment served with a big slice of humanity. He is constantly meeting new people from all around the globe because they are routinely seeking him out to be a small part of what he has created. And these strangers often turn into quick friends and take Raven on poignant journeys, sharing their life stories in revealing detail as they run alongside him. Who among us has such diversity and human connection in our daily life?

As we continued to move along the mostly packed sand on Raven’s Back and Forth South route (he alternates among four different running routes each week), I continued to surprise myself by talking with candor. I shared with Raven how much running meant to me and why. I talked about how I’d begun using running like medicine once I’d quit the antianxiety pills (Paxil and Xanax) that had been prescribed to me in college. After stopping those medications in my midthirties, I’d suffered a years-long withdrawal that had wreaked havoc on every portion of my body and mind, and running had been like a desperately needed antivenom for the bite of that withdrawal.

Sometimes, it felt as if running could cure anything, everything. When my days looked black and I felt all depths of blue, running could lift me out of the fog. And when I was angry or stressed or disillusioned with life, running could bring me back to a level-headed place of balance and hope. Maybe I didn’t relay all of these thoughts to Raven as passionately or succinctly as I’m remembering them, but the fact that I even touched on any of these private experiences with a group of strangers is a testament to the feelings of camaraderie that develop during the run—and to the aura of trustworthiness and empathy that emanates from Raven.

You feel that you can tell him anything without being judged.

And by the way, you have to tell Raven something about yourself. There is, after all, that matter of a nickname to be taken care of at the end of the run. If you complete the entire eight miles.

“So Mike, what else do you want to tell me about yourself?” Raven asked as we approached the five- or six-mile mark. “I still don’t have anything nailed down for your nickname.”

“Hmm,” I responded, aware that I had to proceed with a bit of caution here. The nicknames bestowed by Raven usually lasted forever, or so I’d read; few changes seemed to be made after the fact. There was that one guy I’d read about, Cadaver (or was it Corpse?), who had successfully petitioned to have his nickname adjusted only to have it reverted to its original form per Raven’s later judgement on the matter.

I thought hard. Given the everlasting state of Raven’s nicknames, I probably didn’t want to talk about the burning need to pee that was still assailing my insides. Since the run’s first miles, that troublesome sensation had moved upward and transformed into a steely knot in my stomach. While it might be a certain badge of honor to be known as the man who survived a persona battle of the bladder for eight miles, I really didn’t want to go down in Raven Run history as Flomax or Piss-tol Pete (I had played a lot of basketball as a youngster, after all).

I’d already told Raven the story of how I’d run through a Wisconsin tornado the previous summer. I’d told him about my singular, orange-and-black calico cat, Benjie, whom my wife and I had driven through a snowstorm to adopt nearly fifteen years ago, and I’d admitted to him, tentatively, that this was my first group run.

“Maybe we could call you Antisocial,” Raven had suggested after hearing that last fact; but I’d let that idea twist in the salty breeze until it mercifully died.

I’d also told Raven about my affection for writing, and I’d shared, when asked about any previous nicknames I might have carried, the fact that my mother used to call me Pokes.

“How did you get that nickname?” Raven had asked. When I answered that I wasn’t really sure, the runner known as Hitter surmised that perhaps it was because I’d been slow to follow my mother’s instructions—so I was “pokey”—as a little one.

“Do you want to stick with that nickname, or would you like something different?” Raven offered.

“A runner isn’t going to want to be known as slow,” Hitter intervened.

“Unless it is one of those nicknames that is the opposite of reality,” Raven said. “Like Curly for a bald guy.”

“Or like Tiny for a big guy,” I added. “But no. I think I’d like something new.”

As the sun began to drop in the South Beach sky, inching closer to the shimmering waters of the Atlantic, I wracked my brain for another personal anecdote, something that could perhaps be forged into a nickname that I could not only live with but fall in love with. Hmm, falling in love . . . love stories.

“I proposed to my wife in a movie theater,” I said. “I did it as the credits rolled down the screen.”

“Oh really?” Raven said, his curiosity peaking a bit. “Was that planned?”

“It was,” I said.

“And what movie was it?”

A Beautiful Mind,” I answered.

“That might be a good one,” Raven said. “We could call you Beautiful Mind.”

Wow, I thought. What a nickname that would be—flattering and regal. I smiled, pleased to imagine myself accepting Raven’s “beautiful” sobriquet in a couple of short miles.

And then, for some inexplicable reason, I added “I’m pretty sure it was A Beautiful Mind. I mean, we were also watching the movie Traffic around that time. But I’m pretty sure.”

“Well, we can’t give you that name if you aren’t totally sure,” Raven said. And I could tell he wasn’t kidding.

Raven takes the nickname process very seriously. I’d read that he hadn’t even granted his ailing and elderly mother a Raven Run nickname when she had been pushed the eight miles in a wheelchair. He loved his mother infinitely, but she hadn’t technically run the run, so no nickname.

And the grade-schooler who so bravely tagged along with his RVing father and the rest of us? He didn’t end up getting a nickname, either, because he’d occasionally lapsed into walking for portions of the eight miles. Raven didn’t deny people nicknames to be surly or difficult, I guessed. For him rules were simply rules, and it would never even cross his mind to bend them for sentimental reasons (even though he is obviously a sentimental person).

“I’m ninety percent certain it was A Beautiful Mind,” I said. “I remember seeing the ticket stub in one of my wife’s scrapbook pages the other day.”

“Maybe we can confirm it with his wife when we get back to the lifeguard stand,” the other newbie runner suggested. But I could tell that Raven’s mind had already moved on.

“I’m too honest,” I said a short while later, after engaging in some private stewing about my lost nickname. “I shouldn’t have said anything about not being sure of the movie title.” But how could I have helped it? The run and the sun were acting not only as social lubricants for me but as truth serums.

Then, as we jogged into the final stretches of our run and those strange truth serums continued to penetrate my defenses, I mentioned something about overthinking everything.

“That’s it!” Raven said with a bit of “Eureka!” in his voice. “We can call you Overworked Mind.”

I thought about it, and I couldn’t object. “My wife would probably find that name very apt,” I admitted. And so it happened, as we returned to the Fifth Street lifeguard stand and twilight descended over South Beach, that I was christened Overworked Mind.

After receiving my nickname, I finally asked the question that had been on my mind all night. “Hey, are there any bathrooms nearby? I’ve had to take a pee since about a quarter mile into the run.”

“Oh yeah, there’s one right there,” Raven said, casually pointing toward a white building just past the nearest beach entrance.

I squinted, processing our whereabouts. We’d run eight miles but were right back where we’d started. We were standing in front of the same beach entrance where my wife had told me, firmly, that no bathrooms existed nearby. I shook my head slightly, remembering that spousal assuredness in her voice.

“You should have said something earlier.” Raven said. He winced in empathy. “Man, I don’t like that feeling.”

With legs stiff from eight miles of slow-and-steady running, and with my stomach mired in the grips of a strange urinary pain, I hobbled toward the bathroom with the expectant heart of a desert traveler stumbling to reach an oasis. But alas, the relief at the urinal wasn’t what I’d imagined. Due to either dehydration or the possibility that my bladder was now spiting me for having ignored its desperate pleas over the past couple of hours, I could barely squeeze out a drop.

Resolved to put my disappointing bathroom trip behind me, I met back up with Raven, my wife, and the other new runner and his family by the lifeguard stand (the Raven Run regulars had already dispersed for the evening). In a postrun ritual that no doubt happens most every day, we broke out the cell phones and took pictures to memorialize our experience. We got shots in front of the famous Fifth Street lifeguard stand—the alpha and omega of each day’s running adventure—and then we walked to the other side of the beach entrance and took a couple more selfies as the nightlife began to hum on Ocean Drive.

As Raven got ready to head back to his apartment—when it was just my wife and I alone with him—I attempted to give him a copy of the antistress devotional book I’d authored. During the run, we’d talked about my writing dreams and the projects I’d worked on recently, and I wanted to leave him with something special to remember me by.

Raven squinted to read the cover of my book. “The Lovely Grind: Spiritual Inspiration for Workdays,” he said, sounding a little confused, or maybe a little panicky.

“It’s my book,” I explained. “I just wanted to give you a copy.”

My wife held the paperback out for him, but he hesitated to take it.

“Or not,” I said, sensing that something was amiss with this gift-giving attempt. I felt a little hurt—and embarrassed, actually—but then I remembered a few more things that I’d read about Raven. “Maybe he doesn’t have room for it,” I told my wife.

“I don’t,” Raven said quickly. “I can’t bring any new things into my apartment.” His eyes were apologetic. “I’m sorry, I can’t. And besides, I wouldn’t read it. I just have so much else going on, I wouldn’t have the time to read it.”

“That’s okay,” I said, knowing that once again Raven was simply being himself, simply being honest.

He wasn’t blithely dismissing my gift because he was a thoughtless individual. He wasn’t being mean or rude or insensitive (in the past he’d been hurt by people who were all those things, or so I’d read, and I was pretty sure that he took special care not to display such unkindness to others). I guessed he really couldn’t bring my book—or any other new mementos or treasures—into his apartment. In Running with Raven, I’d read about the sentimental, pack-ratting tendencies that had caused him troubles in the past, troubles that had included mold and that had led to an interventional cleanup visit from a friend who was a fellow Raven Runner.

Perhaps Raven had promised himself—and/or the friend who had helped him to clean and organize his living space—that items would only flow out of the apartment from now on. Not into it. Who was I to meddle with such a resolution if there had been one.

“Okay, well, thanks for the run,” I said, feeling truly grateful.

I was grateful that I’d completed Raven’s eight miles—glad that I’d fought through pains and nerves and doubts and had simply gotten my ass down to South Beach and done it. I now had an experience that I’d truly never forget, and I recognized the importance of that almost immediately. I was also grateful to God, and to Raven: to God because He had given us human beings the gift of running—that always accessible portal to quick renewal and inspiration—and to Raven because he had given us runners something transcendent to be a part of.

I, along with so many other unique personalities from all over the world, now had my own tiny page in the running history books thanks to Raven.

“You’re welcome,” Raven said. “Make sure you come again.”

As Raven walked away, I drank my orange Powerade Zero and took off my damp socks and overheated shoes. I hopped up onto the short stone wall across from those bathrooms that will forever live in infamy for me, and I reclined, feeling peaceful and proud.

I took a deep breath of the warm Miami air, and I wondered when I’d return for another run with Raven.


Michael Priebe is a writer and personal development coach who has studied psychology, literature, and print journalism. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he graduated with honors. and over the years he has used both fiction and nonfiction formats to write about health, sports, professional life, politics, relationships, and spiritual issues. He puts out a variety of spiritually inspiring content at The Lovely Grind, and he blogs about his life at He invites you to find out more about his life coaching here, and he hopes you'll reach out to him on Facebook and Twitter.

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