The Ghost Runner: The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn’t Stop
Author: Bill Jones
The mystery man threw off his disguise and started to run. Furious stewards gave chase. The crowd roared.
A legend was born. Soon the world would know him as ‘the ghost runner’. John Tarrant. The extraordinary man whom nobody could stop. As a hapless teenage boxer in the 1950s, he’d been paid £17 expenses. When he wanted to run, he was banned for life. His amateur status had been compromised. Forever. Now he was fighting back, gatecrashing races all over Britain. No number on his shirt. No friends in high places. Soon he would be a record-breaker, one of the greatest long-distance runners the world has ever seen.
So one day I was browsing the new arrivals shelf at the library (normally, I stick to the fiction side, but for some reason I was on the non-fiction side) when this book caught my eye. It wasn’t even that the cover had a bright anything to catch my eye, since its a black and white photo, but there was just something…and I’m glad I did because it exposed a facet of sports (both national and international) that I’d never thought about. I mean, I grew up in a era with over-payed (IMHO) sports stars going to the Olympics, rather than the true amateurs like years past.
When he was a young man, John Tarrant was paid £17 as a boxer, which according to sports regulations at the time, meant that he was no longer an amateur and thus couldn’t compete either at home or internationally as a runner. Over the next 20 odd years, he ran race after race, unregistered; often waiting until after the race started before shedding his disguise and jumping into the midst of all the participants.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, but the middle got a bit dry – while I understood his plight and how much it must have sucked for him (for lack of a better word), I felt like the author became too focused on the continual fighting that went on between John and the various leaders within the athletics communities. I also was a bit disappointed that for the most part John’s running times (in particular those races that he won, but didn’t win) weren’t ever actually mentioned – I mean, the claim was made that he was the greatest long distance runner of all time, but there was no quantifiable data provided to support that.
Overall, I gave The Ghost Runner 3.5 stars, but rounded down to 3 on Goodreads, mostly because of the lag in the middle.