Book Review: The Ghost Runner - The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn't Stop

April 26, 2012

This is one of those books you just can’t stop reading once you started. The story is well written and I was so involved I stayed up into the night to finish it. I liked it so much that I keep talking about it to everybody.
In other words, if you really want to read a true inspiring story: that’s your book.
Because this is one of the most moving, engrossing, and tragic, tales in the history of athletics I’ve ever heard of.

It's the story of John Tarrant. A young teenager living in post-war Buxton (a city close to Manchester in the UK) who at 19 years old gave up amateur boxing (after some disastrous fights) and decided that he had what it takes to become a successful runner.
Truly believing in his potential, he applied to join a running club, naively declaring an insignificant £17 of expenses reimbursement he got paid during his short lived boxing career.
The result was a lifetime ban from all domestic and international competitions. Why? Because according to the regulations in force, the expenses reimbursement meant that Tarrant had competed for money and this violated the strict codes concerning amateurism in British athletics.
But Tarrant was far from giving up his hope of becoming a runner. And in August of 1956 in Liverpool, he jumped from the crowd into a field of high-profile marathon runners and started running with them.
After leading for 15 miles, he keeled over and had to be carried off in an ambulance. However, the local paper had gone to press while he was still in the lead and the national press soon picked up the story; with the Daily Express coining the nickname which would become his alter ego: the ghost runner.

For the next two years, Tarrant gate crashed races all over the UK, always running without a number.
Audiences at athletic meetings all over England became used to an extraordinary sight.
A tall man with unusually sunken eyes would hang around at the start dressed in a long overcoat. As soon as the starting gun went, he would throw off his overcoat and join in the race, despite the frantic efforts of stewards to stop him.
With no number on his vest, he sped to the front of the field where he remained until he either won, or - almost as often - collapsed from exhaustion.
Thwarted by the nightmare of his ban, he ran at ever-longer distances, setting the world record at 40 miles and then 100 miles. He fled to the USA and then South Africa, where he ran as the only white in all-black road races ("a ghost in a nation of ghosts") before cancer finally claimed him in 1975. He was aged just 42, and he died unfulfilled and largely unknown.
Tarrant ran up to 5,000 miles a year, always hoping he might prevent against the system.
While the men who controlled British athletics regarded Tarrant with deep disapproval, the public was fascinated by his exploits.

In the kitchen of their Hereford council flat, his wife counted the pennies. Out on the road, he merely totted up the miles. Always the outsider, even where history was concerned.
Tarrant was a man driven by resentment. Brought up in a particularly rough children’s home in Kent, he was beaten and bullied almost from the moment he could walk. Running, it seems, was the only way he could outpace his demons.
By now the athletics world had moved on and Tarrant was a forgotten man. He might have stayed that way had not Bill Jones been given a copy of a memoir Tarrant wrote shortly before his death. Idly, Jones began to leaf through it, and was promptly gripped. ‘The man,’ he writes, ‘has been haunting me ever since’.
I bet you’ll be moved by the life and death of this incredible man.
Read this book, you will not be disappointed.

The Iron You


  1. I'm intrigued, sounds like an amazing reading!

    1. It's really really good! You should absolutely get it; you won't regret it!

  2. I gotta read this thanks for sharing x x