The Running-Shaped Hole by Robert Earl Stewart

Filling Your Psyche’s Hole

We are all born incomplete, some of us less complete than others. For some people, addicts in particular, this incompleteness manifests itself as a hole in the soul that impels them on an endless quest to fill that hole, often leading to tragedy. Addiction and the challenges to conquer it through running forms the spine of the Running-Shaped Hole, a memoir by poet Robert Earl Stewart of Windsor, ON.

Stewart’s story focuses on his early struggles with addiction and excess, starting with his formative years when his devotion to both music and alcohol, with a thick streak of cannabis and other drugs running through the days, is the focus of a shy, awkward youth who manages to gravitate towards journalism and writing, leading to marriage, career and family. The third demon tearing at his soul is overeating, leading to tip the scales at closer to 400 lbs than 300 lbs at his heaviest, even after successfully quitting drinking.

“Stewart’s writing is frank and direct, showing his struggles and failings with the benefit of hindsight.”

Stewart eventually discovers running and, after some false starts and simultaneously improving his eating habits, he eventually reduces his weight to 220 lbs. This leads him to conclude that his particular void is a running-shaped hole and that his often arduous and circuitous path to inner peace can only be filled by the hours spent pounding pavement, using the exercise and visual stimulation to find the moments of peace that, over time, allow him to continue growing up.

Stewart’s writing is frank and direct, showing his struggles and failings with the benefit of hindsight. He skillfully conveys his fears for his health, his joy in re-discovering the therapeutic value of exercise, his love for his family and his gradual acquisition of wisdom with clarity.

But his life remains a difficult road. Even at his peak running and weight maintenance achievements, he is briefly jailed for assault although a combination of therapy and contrition allow him to be exonerated. Excess is a feature, not a bug, in the personal software application of his life and we read about him training himself to the point of injury, showing that the hole in our soul can change shape over time. Even a running-shaped hole can be stretched out of shape if you try to fit too much running into it. The book ends at an interesting turning point, when Stewart is forced to acknowledge that he has come to hate running – it’s not a cure for all of his problems. He hangs up his running shoes for a time until finally, through a new connection with his older son, he is able to reignite the spark and resume running in a healthy way.

As a person who has both gone through a running habit and who is carrying more pounds than necessary on his frame, I identified strongly with Stewart’s memoir, much more than I expected. This is a refreshing, humbling memoir about a man trying to find inner peace on the trails. Meaty enough to keep your interest, the book is an antidote to many of our current distractions and well worth a read.


Robert Earl Stewart’s first book of poetry, Something Burned Along the Southern Border, was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and his poetry has been published in ThisMagma, and The Best Canadian Poetry. He spent fifteen years as a newspaper reporter, photographer, and editor. Robert lives in Windsor, Ontario.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dundurn Press (Feb. 22 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 328 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1459749057
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1459749054

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Mark Dykeman

Mark Dykeman is an IT project manager by day (sometimes by night) and a reader/writer whenever possible. Mark lives with his family in Woodstock, New Brunswick. You can find his work online at How About This a mighty fine electronic newsletter with posts on creativity, reading and writing, and managing it all, with a dash of current events, pop culture and interviews with Atlantic Canadians you should know about. You can also frequently find him on Twitter as @markdykeman. He's a little obsessed with notebooks and index cards.

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