A LIFE-CHANGING BOOK: PHIL HEWITT’S ‘OUTRUNNING THE DEMONS – lives transformed through running’

I often read a book and say afterwards that it’s a “life-changing book” but I’m not sure that any has actually proved to be that – life-affecting, perhaps, but “life-changing”, hmmmm….I don’t know. However, a book which I’m reading now, and haven’t finished yet, I already know that it’ll be, for me, life-changing. In my head, it already is.

Running has changed my life. Before my elder son told me that I should run (more about that in the book I’m writing…), I was merely functioning. Running has allowed me to live. I’m a life-long sufferer of clinical depression, and anxiety disorder, panic attacks and OCD, but my meds don’t live my life for me, they merely allow ME to live MY life, MYSELF. I know the power of running but this book, a series of stories, how running has helped people from all walks of life cope with their demons and cope in the most trying of times, stories of how running has, in many cases, saved people’s lives, it tells running’s story beautifully. So many of the stories resonate with me. In all cases, how the protagonists talk about running, it resonates with me. The author paraphrases the protagonists’ stories, what running means to them, in the most beautiful, moving English – he gets it!

“The atmosphere was magical – not least because Caroline’s thoughts were now turning towards helping others who had been through their own ordeals. With her run, she wasn’t just celebrating running, she was showing what the human spirit could achieve.”

Often, the protagonists themselves, they put it just as beautifully!

James Buzzell: “It (running) was my escape. When I was alone in the woods on the trails, there was a sense of peace that you just can’t put into words. Everything else drops away. The only way I can describe it would be to paraphrase Buddhist monks or whatever, to talk about a priest who seeks transcendence…Running brought me back from the brink. It taught me some valuable lessons. I know that I don’t need to run now to achieve serenity and transcendence. Those are internal, and I reach them in other ways. But I have no doubt, running saved me. Life is good!”

I GET IT! I SO get it that it brings me to the brink, the brink of tears!

Andi Andrews: “Running has given me confidence, my husband, my job and quite often my escape. It has taken me to places and introduced me to people I would never have known. I am not me if I don’t run and often when I am injured, I am not myself at all.”

Lisa Hallett: “You have got the wind blowing on your face, the wind in your hair….running was the place where I could unfold all those emotions. It was the judgement-free zone, the place where I could be snotty and teary…I needed to run in order to grieve. When I run, there is no one to see me. I could feel what I need to feel. I could be raw, I could escape…Running is such a beautiful gift. I hurt in ways I had never hurt before. I felt fear and loneliness and loss. But it also gave me the place to move forward, the way to keep going…There are so many ways to cope after a difficult experience, but running is something that all levels can do. It doesn’t matter if you are running or walking or sprinting, you are going forward…”

I feel a connection with these people, I feel a sense of camaraderie, it really is tangible, a sense of camaraderie with people I’ll never meet but with whom I share the common bond, a love of running, the insight into the power of running, a connection through the common denominator, that being that running has changed, and in many cases, saved lives.

Now, I look at people whom I see running and I know that there is a good chance that some of them are doing it for more than just reasons relating to physical health, that some of them are fighting demons, that some of them are trying to rebuild themselves, that some of them are doing it as a cathartic exercise.

Before I picked up this book, I didn’t realise, despite the life-changing affect that running has had on my life, didn’t realise quite how powerful it is, the universality of it, the global effect, the transformative effect that it has on millions of people, on their lives, at any one time, at any one moment. Before I picked up this book, I ‘sold’ running as just one way to challenge oneself, as one way to survive, as one way to pull through, overcome, as one way to cope, as one way to grow. Of course, there are other ways to do that but I do believe that running has a ‘special’ power:

Lisa Hallett: “…I just needed to run. It felt very primal. It felt very raw, but I needed it.”

THAT’s what it is, what running is, it’s primal, it’s raw, I so get that, I so understand that, I feel it, it resonates with me so much!

But how is this book “life-changing”. My ‘thing’ is raising awareness of clinical depression, anxiety disorder, panic attacks and OCD, telling my story of survival. I also raise awareness of addiction (not a condition from which I have personally suffered but there but for the Grace of God go I!), a mental illness, no more, no less, that the other aforementioned mental illnesses. I talk about how running has changed my life but, now, I am going to evangelise it, talk about the universal, awesome power of running. I must add my voice to the chorus!

I am writing a book, my journey, and I envisage running taking a more central role. My elder son and I are training for a big run, a 100-mile run along a street less than half-a-mile long*, in Ra’anana, Israel, to raise awareness of addiction in Israel and the work of ICA, the Israel Centre on Addiction. This run will symbolise my survival.

After this book is published, I want to be a voice of those who feel that they can’t articulate their story, their feelings, their experience of running, in the way that they feel it, can’t express themselves as they’d like to express themselves. I want to ghostwrite their stories. I want to add their voices to the chorus. My book can be a template for their stories.

The more people who tell their stories, who evangelise running, the louder will be the message, that being that running, that “primal”, “raw” resource available to most of us, it’s a heavenly gift. Of course, there are many people who, for varied reasons, cannot access that resource, cannot run and that does not mean that all is lost. What it’s about is challenging ourselves, getting out of our comfort zones, and whilst I believe that running has a special, awesome power in that regard, I have no doubt, that swimming, cycling, walking long distances, the list goes on, can have transformative effects on lives.

Thank you, Phil Hewitt, survivor, for this book, that you to all the protagonists for your stories…I wish you all well!!

*route subject to change as the City Mayor has not yet given his approval.

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