Researching and writing a new book about running has proved the way back to health for Sussex Newspapers’ group arts editor Phil Hewitt after a savage knife attack in South Africa, says Chindi author Jeremy Good.
Phil wrote the first draft of In The Running: Stories of Extraordinary Runners from Around the World before heading to Cape Town in February to watch England take on South Africa at the famous Newlands cricket ground.
Walking back after the match (which England lost), Phil strayed into an area he was unwise to be in – and paid the price, knifed twice in the leg and punched and kicked brutally before being left for dead by the roadside.
“I was convinced I’d had it and was fading away when a passing pizza delivery guy scooped me up and whizzed me to hospital – a fantastic guy towhom I have absolutely no doubt I owe my life.
“When I got back home and started recovering, I started to edit the book and found all sorts of inspiration in the runners I had described just a few weeks before, runners who had pushed their bodies to impossible lengths or who had overcome the most appalling conditions or run through the most horrible, ghastly trauma, injuries or illness – runners who had conquered much worse things than I needed to.
“But inevitably things did indeed get much worse. Two stabs, 15 stitches, severely-kicked guts and several broken ribs gave way to infection, hospital stays and in the end an abdominal operation… and also weeks of blackness.
“The low point was a panic attack in Boots in Fareham, and you can’t get anywhere less threatening than that. It was then I realised that I absolutely had to run again, despite the stabbed leg, however much it hurt. And so I did. It was horribly painful, probably medically unwise, a strange lurching/bobbing gait, a mix of Quasimodo and a duck… but something lifted mentally.
“When I ran the Berlin Marathon in 2008, I was privileged to run in the same race in which the incomparable Haile Gebrselassie broke his own world record. I will always remember that he said the most gracious, beautiful thing to the rest of us: ‘You were my tailwind and are all record-breaking runners, too!’
“It was a thought I’d always cherished – and when I ran/hobbled again, I realised that the remarkable runners I was writing about were actually my tailwind in my moment of need. They helped me through – and this book has become my tribute to them.”
In The Running is published in paperback by Summersdale on September 8 2016, priced £9.99; ISBN: 978 1 84953 886 2.