Friday, 10 February 2012

Review: The Ghost Runner

I'm no reviewer, but I'll give it a bit of a crack:
One of the books I got for Christmas was The Ghost Runner by Bill Jones. Strapped-lined 'The Tragedy of the Man They Couldn't Stop', it tells the story of John Tarrant, a phenomenal long-distance runner of the 50s, 60s and early 70s. It was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2011.

A brief précis: John Tarrant spent most of his formative years in a Sidcup children's home during the Second World War, during which time his mother died and his Father relocated to Buxton. Two years after the Armistice, with his Father in a position to again provide a home for his sons, John and his brother Victor moved to Buxton. With not much going on John took up Boxing, competing in a few fight nights, in the course of which he was given £17 for expenses. Eventually it became obvious that John wouldn't make it in boxing, and he fell into running and loved it. However, there was one problem: During the 50's the Age of Amateurism was in full swing and strictly adhered to. With the £17 hanging over his head John was considered a professional and couldn't race in the amateur races he wanted to. So he gatecrashed them and took the UK scene by storm. The book follows his story through the 50s, 60s and 70s, his running, record attempts, attempts to race abroad, his personality and ethos, his family and his many collisions with the authorities.

The Ghost Runner, no number on his vest (from the Buxton Advertiser)
The book appears to be a labour of love for Jones, the subject matter being brought to his attention in 1984; the book only being released last year, with much time spent researching his subject matter - much material appears to have come from interviews with Tarrant's family and contemporaries, along with newspapers and magazines of the time and John's short self-written memoir.

In his introduction Jones doesn't hide that he's not overly interested in the physical competitiveness of running, more the characters which make up the sport. As such, this book covers John Tarrant's life, digging in to what made this running obsessive tick and how it affected and shaped his life. It is not a diary of races, training sessions and times, but a story of the sacrifices made by a runner and his family so the runner could partake in what he loved.

Warmly written, The Ghost Runner contains a great deal of analysis of the runner's condition through this extraordinary exponent of the sport, someone who's influence has transcended the years. Many runners, especially the young and enthusiastic, read books about how to train to achieve their maximum. This book nods towards this, but is more about the sacrifices that some people have had to take to enjoy what is now, mercifully, a much more lenient and welcoming sport. As such I feel it is a must for the library of all levels of runner, indeed anyone with a vague interest in sports or the indomitable characters of the post-war years.

In the time of pampered, preening, worshipped, idolised and over-indulged sports stars, The Ghost Runner opens a window on sport in the days of amateurism vs. professionalism, the ability for sport to bring different communities together before all major clubs and events had a charitable arm, whilst introducing some of the great names of UK Marathon and Ultra-Marathon running from the past.

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