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The Ghost Runner: The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn't Stop Paperback – 7 Jul 2011
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"A terrific story - a comic strip hero made flesh, with all the human complications that entails" (Daily Mail)
"Tarrant's poignant story is wonderfully refreshing and beautifully told" (The Sun)
"A fantastic story of the underdog" (Metro)
"Makes fascinating reading" (Manchester Evening News)
"Bill Jones used to make documentaries, and he retains that discipline's eye for telling details and evocative shots" (The Times)
The true and heartbreaking story of a man the world came to know as The Ghost RunnerSee all Product description
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For those as much in the dark as me John Tarrant was, in short, a talented long distance runner who in the late 1950s was barred from amateur running competitions by the authorities of the day after (rather foolishly, in hindsight) owning up to recieving a grand total of £17 for contesting boxing matches in his local town. He then took it upon himself to turn up and compete in races anyway, without an official entry, and was subsequently dubbed 'The Ghost Runner'. Haunted by exclusion in one way or another for the rest of his life, he eventually found himself immersed in the world of ultra distance running (i.e. much longer than a Marathon!).
Bill Jones describes beautifully how a single punitive act could come to dominate one man's thinking, almost to the exclusion of everything else (e.g. employment, his family life), and yet also be a significant driving force behind some astounding feats of endurance. The story is told largely chronologically from Tarrant's troubled childhood to his early passing, skillfully intertwining many interesting (real) characters along the way; and by the end of the book Jones' really has you rooting for his man. No punches are pulled however (no pun intended, honest) with the author leaving the reader in no doubt that his subject was often a difficult and troubled man.
Despite my surprise that this book was not written many years ago, I cannot help thinking that it is somehow apt that it appears now. Bill Jones concludes the book with an afterword that details some of the events that highlighted the end of amateurism in sport, including the reinstatement of Dwain Chambers to the GB team (compared to the ban on JT running for his country), and the appearance of a multi-millionaire professional Rafael Nadal in the Olympic Games tennis final. He does this I think mainly to hammer home the ridiculous nature of John Tarrant's treatment by the authorities, but it left me feeling almost as depressed about the state of sport today as it did about JT's trials back in the day. Full amateurism in sport clearly did not work, but neither I would argue does unfettered professionalism.
I highly recommend this book.
HOWEVER! There is absolutely NO excuse for the first 80 pages of boring preamble! Why oh why do biographers think we are interested in the subject's ancestral history? I wanted to know about John Tarrant, not his parents, grandparents, etc. Their lives are irrelevant! In fact, any subject's life is itself not really of interest until he or she starts doing what he/she is famous for! Those first 80 (zzzz.....) pages could be condensed into one paragraph, saying whether he came from a good/bad background to rich/poor parents, and in the case of JT, whether there was any family running history. That's all we really need to know, as that's all that has a bearing on "anything". I sometimes wonder if authors deliberately pad out books to increase the wordage/fee?!
Anyway, that aside, it's a remarkable read. I do so wish the great man hadn't had all those mid-race stomach problems. Who knows where his career would have taken him? Also, I did think it odd that he was able to leave his wife and son for so long, but then he wasn't your average man, let's face it.
One last thing - this story is crying out to be made into a movie!
The subject of the book, long-distance runner John Tarrant, had such persistently bad misfortune that despite his apparent pig-headedness and his lack of emotion, you cannot help but feel pity as the book charts his life story. Not all doom and gloom by any means - the book is ultimately a moral in the triumph of unwavering spirit - but it does make the reader aware of just what level of hardship Mr. Tarrant endured from cradle to grave.
Bill Jones has achieved an excellent balance of narration, speculation and reference of source material. The author has clearly dedicated significant time to the life of John Tarrant, and leaves no stone unturned. The struggle Tarrant faced to become an accepted competitor took him across the world and Jones re-creates that path faithfully; all the while assessing, via first-hand accounts, the effects that Tarrant's obsession with running caused him both mentally and physically.
This book is so good that it transcends sports afficionados, historical hunter-gatherers and running freaks alike - it is a story that absolutely anyone can marvel at; even if their interest in sport is negligible.
An inspirational book that has pride of place on my biography bookshelf.
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