Phil Hewitt: outrunning his demons after a vicious knife attack

Phil Hewitt Outrunning The Demons

Author Phil Hewitt, the man behind Outrunning The Demons, explains what motivated him to write this book. It’s a collection of stories where running has transformed people’s lives, or helped them cope in the face of adversity and grief. And, as Phil explains, that’s exactly what it did for him. 

Run Deep. Run deep indeed. I have never run deeper in my life. I have never needed it more. And I have never enjoyed it more.

It’s a bit of a cliché to call running a lifesaver.

Besides, the real lifesaver was the guy who hauled me off my blood-stained pavement and whizzed me to hospital. The guy who stopped to help me when it would have been so easy simply to drive on by.

I mean, who stops for a mugging in Cape Town, for heaven’s sake? Thank heavens, he did.

In all likelihood, his intervention was the difference between life and death. My vision was blurring. I was starting to lose consciousness.

Then came the medical intervention… and then the love and support of friends and family at a very, very difficult time in my life.

And then came running. Maybe it didn’t save my life. But it certainly got me back on my feet – in every sense.

And it is running’s power to heal, to offer hope, to help us make sense of total senselessness that I celebrate in my new book, a book which comes with a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin type title: Outrunning The Demons (Bloomsbury Sport).

A bit pale and shocked in Cape Town a few days after the attack, some bruises still visible

What if?

That’s exactly what I have been doing since the day I was stabbed, punched and kicked and could so easily have lost my life. And you just wouldn’t believe the difference running has made…

In the weeks following the assault, it was the questions that hurt the most. The questions that wouldn’t go away. The questions I will never find answers to. The questions that I still ask myself far, far too much. Fruitless, pointless questions, but questions which are always hovering.

What did the knife look like? I didn’t see it. Where had my attacker been all day? Did he stab anyone else that day? How grubby was the knife? How many other people did he stab that day? How many people has he stabbed since?

Does he remember me? Is he even alive? Surely, you can’t carry on doing what he was doing with impunity.

But above all, I want to know: what would have happened if my rescuer hadn’t stopped and bundled me into his car? What would have happened if I had been left there just a few minutes more, blood pooling around me on that Cape Town pavement nearly four years ago?

And that’s the trouble with being stabbed – assuming you survive.

The real problem isn’t so much the knife that goes into you. No, the real problem is the mess of thoughts it leaves behind – thoughts, in my case, far harder to deal with than the physical injuries.

And that’s where running picked me up and held me in its warm, sweaty, deliciously knackering embrace.

Questions and questions

I was walking back from watching England lose a one-day international against South Africa at the gorgeous Newlands cricket ground in Cape Town. And I was stupid. I made bad decision after bad decision. I carried on walking when I should have walked back, and I walked straight into danger – danger quickly realised.

In a ghastly, grim, crime-ridden suburb, I was stabbed twice in the leg by a mugger demanding my camera. The weird thing is that the stabs felt like punches, which is probably why I fought back. I pulled him to the ground, where he started kicking me in the back, which was the moment I looked down to see my leg was awash with blood. No, those punches most definitely weren’t punches.

I let go of my camera, and my attacker got to his feet and loomed over me. I wasn’t getting up. To make doubly sure, he unleashed a volley of kicks to my chest and stomach before legging it through the rubble and undergrowth.

Thank goodness, a passing pizza delivery driver stopped within a couple of minutes. There was an awful lot of blood. He shoved me into his car just as I was thinking that my number was probably up.

And he whisked me to hospital. 18 stitches. Three broken ribs. A bruised liver. And one very, very messed-up head. And that was the problem.

It let those questions in…. questions which bubbled and brooded and simmered and festered until the day, three weeks later, they erupted in a panic attack. In Boots in Fareham, of all places… and believe me, you can’t get anywhere less threatening than Boots in Fareham.

A few hours before the attack

Outrunning my demons

So what did I do? The next day I did what I have always done. I ran. And it hurt like hell. Broken ribs. Flesh barely healed. But something lifted. 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 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.

Celebrating the book with our children, Adam and Laura

Running as therapy

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 you as much as they have touched me.

Running has been my therapy. This book has been my therapy too. I hope the tales of strength will lift you as much as they have lifted me. I hope this 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.

About Outrunning The Demons

Outrunning the Demons: Lives Transformed through Running
  • Hewitt, Phil (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update on 2022-06-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Stories in Outrunning The Demons include:

  • The New York firefighter’s widow who ran the New York City Marathon in his memory after he perished amid the horrors of 9/11
  • The dad who tried to drown himself in a moment of despair and has since found purpose, strength and happiness through running
  • The prison officer who connected with his murdered daughter amid the ice floes of the North Pole Marathon
  • The US army captain’s widow who found an outlet for her grief through running – and went on to unite a nation in commemoration of the fallen
  • A New York mum to two severely autistic boys who knows that running has saved her family
  • A naval officer who found himself in a plunging, nosediving jet, only to emerge with PTSD and a horror of all forms of transport. Running was the means by which he reclaimed his life
  • An Australian PE teacher who was brutally sexually assaulted on an early-morning run – and found that running was the best way to combat the horrors the attack left her with
  • A British firefighter who found that running helped him face the trauma of pulling the bodies of friends and colleagues from a fatal fire

Phil has recently done an interview about his experience on the 3 Mile Rundown channel

Read more features on runners from all walks of life in our INTERVIEWS section.