Book review: The Ghost Runner by Bill Jones

What. A. Story.

The Ghost Runner by Bill Jones tells us about the life and career of John Tarrant and just how idiotic the bodies which ran amateur athletics were.

Tarrant grew up in wartime London and as the bombing intensified he and his brother, a lifelong compadre and supporter of John’s ambitions, were shipped out to a care home. Their father never returned for them until years after the war had ended and by then their lives had been irrevocably changed.

Eventually Tarrant found himself in Lancashire and as he worked to discover himself he moved from hobby to hobby, job to job. It was an ill-fated sojourn into boxing as a naive teenager which was to prove his biggest mistake. However unwittingly so.

You see, in the eyes of the protectors of amateur sport, Tarrant’s crime of being paid, however measly, for boxing was unforgivable.

As Tarrant’s love for running grew so did the recognition of his ability. The problem was he was persona non grata and would not be allowed to compete.

The Ghost Runner was born.

Jones’s brilliant narrative tells of how Tarrant’s determination to run became an obsession. He would sneak into races. He would be numberless and marshalls would refuse him refreshments.

All the while he hounded the association to let him in. He grew a cult following in the press and public but even when he thought he had won he hadn’t.

Tarrant was a talented runner but he was obstinate, stubborn and had the kind of single-mindedness that was a strength and flaw in equal measure.

Through Jones we see a humble but selfish character, willing to leave his family for months on end to live and run in South Africa. His ambition to win The Comrades an almost debilitating obsession.

This book is moving, inspiring and galling in equal measure. It is an absolute must for any runner who needs a spark to get them out of bed on a dank Sunday morning.



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