The Ghost Runner - John Tarrant

I finished reading The Ghost Runner by Bill Jones which was released on the 7th July.  The book is about John Tarrant, his life, his very very understanding wife and brother and his ups and downs from the 50s through to the early 70s.  At one point he held the 100 mile world record, the 40 mile world record and won many marathons and road runs during the 60's and early 70's.  His final dream was to run the Commrades in SA which he did 4 times.  It is an amazing story and I can highly recomend the book to other runners.  The last few pages would bring tears to a glass eye.....



  • I saw that in a bookshop recently and thought it looked really interesting.  Thanks for the review Kev.

    EDIT: Oh and I just read the article.  image

  • Is this guy who wan't allowed to compete for Britain as he had won a nominal sum of money in a boxing ? (tournament) as a 17 year old and wa sthen considered to have been a professional?
  • Grendel3, you are correct, that is John Tarrant.  His story and the miles he covered in training and in races is amazing.  The book gives details of the other runners who were important during this time at distances from 10 miles to 100 miles and is a great history lesson for someone like me who knows little about the importance of road racing in the 40's, 50's and 60's.
  • I was a friend of John's. I ran against him in the Portsmouth 50 in 1971, and on October 30th of that year he presented me with the 2nd place trophy in the Nos Galan 40 at Maindy Stadium, Cardiff. I was only 20 years old at the time.

    I was only one of three runners who kept in touch with him just before his death in Birmingham Hospital.  He felt abandoned and said that before he became ill he received several sacks of post each week.  We all knew of his hospitalisation as such had been published in Athletics Weekly.

    John suffered with his hospital treatment and wrote me, shortly before he died, that if he had his life over again he would choose complimentary medicine instead of mainstream torture.

    I was priviledged to know John both as a fellow runner and as a good friend.  I feel qualified to speak on his behalf in saying that he is touched by the revived interest in him, particularly by the publication of the new  Ghost Runner book. And to thank all concerned.

    Almost forty years have passed  and I still miss him. The world has few men of John's stature.

  • I requested The Ghost Runner book for Christmas...and got it yesterday afternoon: I have now almost finished it! I thought I knew quite a bit about John Tarrant, but in fact the little I knew doesn't scratch the surface of this tragic story...and it is a tragic story in more ways than one, revealing, for example, the suffering in children's homes during the 1940s, never mind the class division in athletics (and other sports such as rowing).

    The book comments on the irony that we have today: someone like Rafa Nadal, multi-millionaire, can win a tennis Olympic gold; John Tarrant took £17 and was banned from running for life. 

    Read it!

    Progress is rarely a straight line. There are always bumps in the road, but you can make the choice to keep looking ahead.
  • Ivan: it would be really interesting if you could contact me!

    Does anyone know if a documentary/film etc has been made of John Tarrant's life?

    Progress is rarely a straight line. There are always bumps in the road, but you can make the choice to keep looking ahead.
  • Can't say I've ever been interested in books about running. It's such a basic thing to do, one foot in front of t'other.

    But this looks like a fascinating story. Just read the Indie item linked above, and it so happens I got given a Waterstones voucher for Crimble ... the website says my local shop has it in stock too ... I'll just have to pay a visit.

  • Read it in the summer,excellent read that i found hard to put done.This guy had guts on a scale i didnt realise existed.To anyone thinking of buying it then i would reccomend it.

  • Just finished reading this book, a truely inspiring and tragic story.

  • I'm half way through the book right now.  It reveals a lot about John Tarrant, but as a runner he was astonishingly good and was badly mistreated by the Brits.  He probably would have won GB a gold medal! 
  • I did go to Waterstones, and the book is next in the queue for when I've finished my current read ... have resisted the temptation to have two books on the go simultaneously.
  • This is a book I'll read.
  • MuttleyMuttley ✭✭✭


    Excellent book. Tarrant's treatment by the hypocritical old buffers who ran the sport was truly obnoxious, but he certainly wasn't a straightforward man. Highly recommended. A good story told well.

  • Boing!

    Just finished reading this book, it was a great read - inevitably it is an tragic story. Very well and sympathetically written by Bill Jones. This would easily make a good film.

     To me, that John Tarrant never drank or smoked and was clearly an extremely fit man, it seems somehow crueller that he was taken by cancer...

    Inevitably, like most top class sportsmen/women he would not have been easy to live with.

    With proper coaching who knows what he could have achieved - it seems that he had an abundance of natural talent but without much tactical nous...

    Great stuff and up there with the best "flawed genius" sporting biographies...

  • Redordead,  Perhaps by accident, or intuition, you seem to have stumbled onto some possible truths concerning John.  The thing John and I shared was an obsessive passion, almost to the point of excluding everything else in life bar bare essentials. It is a trait common to most that excel, but arguably some - like John - took it to extremes. What I mean by this is that John could not exist without racing as much as possible. For a marathon or ultra runner this normally might have meant three or four big races each year - tops. But for John it almost meant every weekend. I don't know how ultra race events stack up these days but certainly in the 1970s there was almost a big ultra event every weekend.  John ached for a part in every one!  John suffered from persistent stomach trouble. As we all know each of our bodies directs energy to where it is most needed. My own view being that if we thrash ourselves in numerous back to back events our digestion can suffer. We just don't have the energy for it.  I've always wondered  if such contributed towards John's illness? But it's now all water under the bridge. Within months of my first meeting John my own career ended before it began with a seriously damaged achillees injury, and John's career a few years later and far more tragically. Despite John's set backs and pains arguably he realised his potential, and as he now looks down on us from on high is likely still recalling his very best races. I never did ask him what his best memory was, but I know that his world record for 40 miles was dear to his heart.  That's how we met - he returned to his beloved Wales if only as a spectator / guest of honour. Many loved and admired John, not least his family, and more importantly understood him as a person. I see that as equalling his running achievements. I'm so pleased to see this revived interest in him.    

  • this is an interesting insight into the mind of how driven and pathological even non-professional athletes can be.

    i felt great sympathy for his predicament (especially his brutal upbringing) but also difficult not to judge unfavourably his apparent ambivalence towards his wife and son.

    this isn't the best writing ever, but it is a cracking story.

  • I read it and enjoyed it, found him to be inspirational in terms of being driven and am in awe of his amazing resolve and determination. On the other hand I had total contempt for his selfish attitude towards his family
  • Read it and found it very interesting, it was nice to read about all the sides of his life which you don't tend to get with autobiographies. In someways reading how simple it all is when you really get down to it, just put some shoes on and run.
    As someone with a life history of unidentified tummy troubles is does worry me somewhat, I don't think we've got any better at diagnosing these issues since his time.

  • DustinDustin ✭✭✭

    I read this towards the end of last year. A great read and a well written book.
    Agree totally though with EKGO's observations.

  • I've read many runig books about ultra runners (Scott jurek, dean karnes, Born to Run, etc).  all these super-mega-ultra guys seem to have "loner" traits to their personalities but they have physical ability I could only ever dream of (I get injured when I up the miles, these guys seem to never be injured!).  Having said i do enjoy reading their stories as they all reveal their inner battles we all have.

    without wanting to sound too harsh, John Tarrant's myth is maybe bigger than his actual ability - against the top runners his illnesses generally stopped him short.  If he ever got to run for GB in the Olympics it seems he wouldn't have finshed near the top.  I also have to agree the comments above above the unbelievably selfish attitude to his own life to the detriment of his family, some things are more important than running...

    at the end I can't believe how snooty the amatuer/professional debate was at the time, aren't we lucky today.   

  • I could, but my own values mean I don't, anyone who fails to put family first is not going to earn my respect
  • I was very touched by this fabulous read, very sad at the end. yes, we all know how his family was not put first, how most of the time he was very selfish, but im sure alot was to do with his childhood.

  • I`ve not finished it. I gave up finding the writing style suffered because the author didn`t know the subject (Tarrant). I might try and go back to it. I much preferred Jurek`s book and the Murikami one. Thought Born to Run was too full of US macho bullcrap, to coin a phrase.

  • Nick - yeah, I must read `Clouds`. Sounds good.

  • DustinDustin ✭✭✭

    +1 for feet in the clouds, best running book I've read
    -1 for Murikami, possibly the worst running book I've read...
    can recommend barefoot runner , about Bikila

  • Quite liked both of those, Feet in the Clouds particularly, and even though I agree about Born to Run (possibly written with a tour of after dinner speaking in mind) I enjoyed it all the same

  • I am campaigning for a statue of John Tarrant this world record holder in his home town of Hereford.I have just helped with the process of a documentary about John Tarrant The Ghost Runner and can tell you there is a film in process.John Tarrants inseperable brother Vic Tarrant a running coach of 40 years and top class runner himself was my running coach for 12 years. Vic dedicated his life and soul to helping his brother.John Tarrants wife Edith was as devoted to John as Vic was,always placing clean running kit out daily,polishing Johns Trophies....Bill Jones did a fantastic job of writing the Book "The Man They Could Never Stop Running" so real and true to the heart,every fact is 100% accurate.Johns brother Vic Tarrant was the kindest soul I've ever known,I owe him so much for his time dedicated to coaching me athletics every day for 12 years,such a patient, articulate man who always put others first and also deserves recognition.A very sad story start to end,determination and grit with no rewards just for the love of running.Johns family may of had to take a back seat but I would imagine that would be the same for many professionals who have to give a 100% to their chosen sport/job the same as if they were in the military but that did not mean he never loved his son Roger,wife Edith and devoted brother Victor Tarrant.
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