Being stabbed providing the inspiration to tell a powerful story

Phil Hewitt

A leading south coast arts editor has turned the horror of a savage knife attack into an inspirational book about the healing power of running.

Phil Hewitt, who is group arts editor of JPIMedia’s Sussex titles, was mugged in Cape Town, South Africa on St Valentine’s Day 2016. He was stabbed in the leg, repeatedly kicked in the chest, stomach and neck and effectively left for dead in a grim, desolate suburb.

Struggling with the after-effects of the attack, Phil suffered a panic attack in quiet shopping centre back home three weeks later. He resolved to sort himself out with a two-part plan: firstly to start writing down every last detail of the ordeal; secondly to get back to running, his first love.

“And that was the turning point… and also the starting point for my new book, Outrunning The Demons, now available from Bloomsbury Sport at £12.99.

A selfie just hours before being stabbed

“Just the act of running, of putting one foot in front of the other, lifted something. It got through the mess in my head. Running hurt like hell. Broken ribs. Flesh barely healed. But something lifted. Running gave me strength.

“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 who have been to hell and have found that the surest, quickest, safest way back is to run.

“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 been on the wrong end of outrageous misfortune.

Pale and bruised, recovering from the attack

“But the thing that links them all 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 people as much as they have touched me.

“Running has been my therapy. This book has been my therapy too. I hope the book is rousing. I hope it is inspiring. I hope it is uplifting. It deals with tough things, but it is not a tough read. It is a book about hope — hope my interviewees have helped me share.”

Phil, aged 55, of Bishops Waltham, Hampshire, added: “Bizarrely, the book also underlined what I love about journalism. I have always seen journalism as the way we bring people together, and that has certainly been the case with this book.

“When you have been traumatised, the best people to help you, I am absolutely convinced, are people who have been traumatised too. They have an absolute intuitive understanding of what you have been through and they can help you in a way no one else can. As I say, the interviews in this book have been part of my own road to recovery.

“I have still got PTSD and I really can’t see it shifting any time soon. I know my memory is atrocious. I am ludicrously, embarrassingly, exhaustingly jumpy. And the moment I thought I was going to die… well, it has become my default setting. I long for an empty mind, but the moment I stop actively thinking about something else, I am back on that pavement in Cape Town believing I am just about to breathe my last.

“I was rescued by a passing pizza delivery driver who picked me up, bundled me into the back of his car and whisked me to hospital. I ended up with 15 stitches, three broken ribs and a messed-up head. But running has helped hugely — and so has chatting with the runners I have interviewed for the book.

“As I say, it is journalism in action, and when things are tough, I imagine me and the 34 other runners dotted along a marathon route. We are all at different stages. Some of us are struggling more than others. We have each got our own journey we are going on. We are very much individuals. But at the same time, to a large extent, we are very much together on exactly the same journey… and for me that is massively comforting.”

If anyone would like to feature Phil’s new book in their publication or would like to interview him, please get in touch at phil.hewitt@chiobserver.co.uk: “Bloomsbury would be delighted to arrange review copies, and I would love to share my story and the stories of the remarkable people I have spoken to.

“It is a book about running but above all, it is a book about hope and survival.

“It’s a story with a horrible start. If the pizza guy hadn’t had the courage to stop for me, I would have bled to death. But it is a story with a happy, uplifting ending … a story which, as I say, is ultimately a story of hope: hope through running.”

The book is available from Amazon.