Buxton, from Cowbar Hill

Buxton, a lovely town in the Derbyshire Dales where everyway out is uphill. Wikipedia lists many notable Buxtonians but one name is missing. Arguably the greatest British long distance runner with world records at 40 and 100 miles, numerous official wins at all distances from 10 miles to the 54 mile London to Brighton Race and many, many more wins unofficially. John Tarrant. Never heard of him? Neither has Buxton Town Council. No blue plaque adorns the modest former council house where he grew up as a teenager in the 1950s. He has been forgotten.

As an hapless teenager John delved briefly into the world of boxing, winning some fights, losing many more, and earning the grand total of £17 in “expenses”. He quit boxing aged 19 having been advised to try a different sport. If pure fitness could have won fights John would have succeeded but he lacked the finesse and skill. He found himself suited to running and applied to join Salford Harriers. On the application form, with full honesty John declared the £17 winnings and was subsquently rejected for membership and banned from racing for life by the British Amature Athletic Board. And so began a life long battle with the athletic authorities.

Not to be beaten John started entering races unofficially. Hiding at the start amongst the runners with numbers and going on to win. As his reputation increased he had to avoid pompus officials trying to chase and manhandle him out of the race. Time and time again his applications to the BAAB for reimstatememt was rejected. He became the darling of the tabloids who called him the Ghost Runner.

Eventually after decades trying the authorities relented amd he was allowed to join Salford Harriers. This allowed him to compete nationally but not internationally. He was never allowed to represent his country, and so was denied the chance for Olympic honours. John was prepared to enter any race and accepted an invitation to race in South Africa where he upset the authorities by being the only white man in a race, strictly against the apartheid rules at the time.

For anyone who wants to know more about John Tarrant, The Ghost Runner by Bill Jones (ISBN 978-1-84596-606-5) is a good read.

John died of stomach cancer in 1974 aged just 42.

Once I figure out how to do it I’ll add John Tarrant to Wikipedia.


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