TAMPA — Rafael Martin stood nearly alone Friday in the dark at the edge of Cancer Survivors Plaza near Raymond James Stadium, counting the minutes until 5 a.m.
He had finished his warm up and sipped his last drop of coffee. His black shoes were on tight, and his backpack was stocked with water and the chocolate brownie Clif bars he would need to fuel him through the long day ahead.
Before the 42-year-old teacher was a tough task: a 50-mile run from Tampa to St. Petersburg and back, through traffic, to raise money and awareness for two causes he holds dear.
The clock hit 5 a.m. — actually a few minutes past.
"Peace," he said to a lone teacher who had braved the chilly morning air to offer support. He crossed N Dale Mabry Highway and disappeared down the road.
The run, really more of a fast walk, had a dual purpose.
Martin is a first-year teacher at the Caminiti Exceptional Center in Tampa and wants to raise money for his autistic students, as well as other disabled students at the school.
"There isn't a more worthy cause than these children," he said. "I love my students like I would my own children."
He also wants to raise awareness of cancer, which claimed his mother's life in 2005. That's why he decided to start at the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors Plaza in Tampa.
He has made similar 50-mile journeys twice before. Both times, he's had success in raising money.
In October 2010, thanks to a sponsorship from OfficeMax, Martin was able to pull in $10,000 worth of student supplies at Tenoroc High in Lakeland, where he worked for three years.
The trip before, in May 2010, he raised $2,300, attempting a 50-mile stretch from Lakeland to Tampa. He made it 48½ miles before he was hospitalized for dehydration. He eventually finished the last 1½ miles after he was released.
This year, Martin doesn't have a sponsor and hasn't received any donations yet. He hopes news coverage of his run will bring in money, which will all be donated directly to the Caminiti Exceptional Center.
"Hopefully, it becomes a positive thing," he said. "Hopefully, it continues on. I feel like I am starting something. I just want something very positive to come from this."
He's learned some valuable lessons from the previous two runs. "It doesn't matter what it looks like," he said. "A slow, steady pace will get me there and back in one piece."
Martin said crossing the Gandy Bridge at night to return to Tampa was the scariest part of the run.
He arrived back at the Cancer Survivors Plaza at 8:22 p.m. and proceeded to lie on the ground. Five people — teachers and students from Caminiti — greeted Martin at the end of his journey.
"I'm really hoping to get some spaghetti," he said. "I love pasta."