Outrunning the demons by Phil Hewitt


Regular readers will know I’m a keen advocate for physical and mental health so when I saw a new book with a host of runner’s stories of how it’s helped them psychologically I was really intrigued. I contacted the author and was delighted when he agree to tell us a bit more about the book and his own personal journey that led to it.

It’s a harrowing story. In February 2016, marathon runner Phil Hewitt was knifed and left for dead in a brutal street robbery. The physical wounds were bad enough; the mental ones tougher still. But after a panic attack one Sunday afternoon three weeks later, Phil followed his instinct. He put on his running shoes and he ran. Hobbling on a stabbed leg and with three broken ribs, it hurt like hell… but something started to lift. Outrunning the Demons tells Phil’s story – and the story of 34 other people from around the world who have been to hell and discovered that the surest, safest way back is to run…

I read somewhere once that it is harder to stab someone than it is to shoot them. I would hate to be in the laboratory where they worked that one out. But it left me wondering whether it is harder to be stabbed than it is to be shot – one of the hundreds of utterly pointless, mostly stupid questions which whirled round and round my head in the immediate aftermath of my mugging.

There is certainly something particularly distressing about the proximity which simply has to come with a knifing. My attacker was on me; I could smell him; and it felt as if he was punching me as he stabbed me once and then twice in the leg, the first wound a five-inch gash to my calf, the second a deep puncture to my thigh.

He toppled me in an instant, but I managed to topple him too. Behind me, in front of me, he kicked and kicked me, lashing out in his fury. When I noticed my leg was awash with blood, I let go of him. He rose to his feet and then kicked me some more before running off.

I lay on the pavement, my vision distinctly wobbly, wondering whether I would soon be breathing my last…

Thank goodness, I was rescued.

But I soon discovered that the trouble with being stabbed, assuming you survive, isn’t so much the knife that goes into you. No, the real trouble is the mess of thoughts it leaves behind– thoughts, in my case, far harder to deal with than the actual injuries.

But the good news – for me, at least – is that the day I could so easily have bled to death wasn’t remotely my finishing line. No, it was the simply the starting line for my new book, Outrunning the Demons. Between its covers is a celebration of running, the thing, alongside family and friends, which got me back on my feet. Literally! As I ran, in those early weeks after the stabbing, I found myself healing with every step. 

I have still got PTSD and frankly can’t see it shifting any time soon, but running gave me strength. It makes me me again, and it was running that started to put me back together again – a story I wanted to tell.

I approached publishers Bloomsbury in London. They asked me to broaden the story, to interview runners around the world who have shared experiences similar to mine, and in that moment, Outrunning the Demons was born.

The book starts with my first marathon after the stabbing, my 31st marathon in all. It finishes with that marathon’s finishing line, a moment when the emotion was simply overwhelming.

In between are 34 interviews with people from the UK, the US and Australia with remarkable stories to tell of the way that running has helped them too.

These are people who have lost loved-ones to murder, have been caught up in terrorism, have suffered depression, addiction, alcoholism or bereavement, have been viciously attacked, have braved horrid illness, have suffered the horrors of war or have been on the wrong end of ghastly misfortune.

But the thing that links them all (apart from speaking to me) is that they have found space and time and connection through running. Running has helped them grieve; it has helped them heal; it has given them freedom; it has renewed and nurtured them; it has helped them move on, re-emerge, reclaim their lives and become stronger people.

These are fantastic people. Wonderful people. Open. Warm. Wise. Generous. Brave. Just fabulous. I am really hoping their stories will touch you as much as they have touched me.

Running has been my therapy. I’d always run. Now I knew why. And this book has been my therapy too. I hope the tales of strength will lift you too.

I hope this book is rousing. I hope it is inspiring. I hope it is enriching.

It deals with tough things, but it is not a tough read. Yes, it’s a book about running. But in my mind, it is much more a book about hope and survival.

Follow Phil on Twitter via @Marathon_addict

Outrunning the Demons: Lives Transformed through Running by Phil Hewitt is published by Bloomsbury Sport on the 24th of January, £12.99 –Use discount code OUTR20 to save 20%

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