Stormin Norman

My late uncle, Norman Smith, was a remarkable man.  He was ebullient, naturally comedic and lived life to the full.  He dominated any room he was in by cracking jokes, singing or just generally acting the goat.  He made and lost a fortune in business.  He was a professional sportsman and coach (he played rugby league for Dewsbury and Featherstone and later coached Dewsbury and was coach at Leeds Rhinos).   Norman was quite a character.

He died just over two years ago after suffering a catastrophic stroke. He was just 69 years old. They had to draft in the police to control the traffic around the Crematorium at his funeral because so many people wanted to be there.

Norman’s two daughters are both remarkable and successful in their own right.

The eldest, Gemma, has worked with racehorses all her life – she left school and joined the Hammond yard in Middleham as stable staff and has worked her way up to be the assistant trainer.  Three years ago, she was named employee of the year at the prestigious Godolphin Stud and Stable staff awards, receiving a prize of £20,000 presented by Sir Tony McCoy and Claire Balding.

Gemma has written a best-selling book about her life and career – Stable Lass.  It’s an honest and very funny insight into what it is really like to work with racehorses.  I thought it was a great read.

Norman’s youngest daughter, Becky, also works in racing at the Hammond yard.  After her promising career as a hockey player was curbed by injury, she followed Gemma into racing and has become one of the best lady jockeys in the country – riding both on the flat and over the jumps.  Last year she was the Champion lady amateur flat jockey in the country.

After Norman died, his mates formed a syndicate and bought a racehorse to run in his memory, to be trained by Gemma and ridden by Becky.  I can’t imagine that there were many disagreements on what the horse would be called –  his nickname “Stormin Norman”.

Stormin Norman is only small, but is beautiful with a big white face.

Stormin Becky

Until Wednesday, he had run in three races.  He ran well on his debut, but clearly didn’t like the soft ground he encountered on the subsequent runs and finished down the field.

Last Wednesday 3rd April, it was two years to the day since the original Norman’s funeral.

Stormin Norman was entered to run in the 5.05 at Market Rasen.  He wasn’t fancied much – he was 20/1 in the early betting market.

Naturally, I backed him.  In fact I back every single horse that Becky ever rides, whatever the odds. This time, I had a feeling, so I put on a quite bit more than I usually would.

It was a thrilling race, Becky kept Stormin settled in third or fourth place in the first part of the race which turned into a sprint over the last two furlongs. Three horses were locked together approaching the line, Becky was driving and urging Stormin for all she was worth. With a tremendous effort near the line from horse and jockey, he won by just a neck:


I was watching whilst at work on a tiny mobile phone screen.  I could barely believe what I was watching.  The people in the neighbouring offices must have thought that I had gone mad.  I was shouting Becky home whilst frantically riding an imaginary horse…

I’m not normally an emotional person, but tears were streaming down my face as Becky rode past the line.

What a story. Two years to the day after he was buried, a horse named after him, saddled by his eldest daughter and ridden by his youngest (and carrying the colours he wore when he played rugby and wearing the same number 6 he wore), wins in a brilliant close finish. They could make a film about it.

It was my biggest ever win on the horses, but that didn’t matter.  Sometimes in life something just perfect happens.




After my rather downbeat post last week, I received some nice messages of encouragement.  Thank you.

My mate Jock sent an e-mail which was basically a stern talking to.  He was quite right too – he said that I was racing too hard and too frequently at shorter distances and I wasn’t getting enough recovery to enable me to do my long runs properly.  I agree entirely.  I haven’t trained for this marathon very intelligently.

Last week’s post was entitled “Am I injured or just lazy?”.  I can answer that question now – I am definitely injured.

I got up at 6:30 a.m. this morning and made my way up to the reservoirs, hoping to complete a final 20 mile long run before London in 3 weeks.  The plan was to run 10 miles on my own before meeting up with friends Myra and Sean for the last 10 miles.

As soon as I set off everything in the lower part of my left leg felt tight and painful – ankle, achilles and calf.  I have become accustomed to mild pain and tightness in my calf over the last few weeks.  It usually it eases off sufficiently after a couple of miles to enable me to run reasonably freely.  But not this time.  I jogged / hobbled / walked around a half lap of 4 miles and then skulked back to the car.

I know why I was knackered – I had run a short leg of the National 12 stage Road Relays at Sutton Park for my club Valley Striders yesterday.

Valley Striders qualified for the National Road Relays by finishing in the top 24 at the Northern relays in Birkenhead a few weeks ago. By any measure, I’m not quick enough to make the team if our best runners compete; however many of the fast guys were unavailable and we were struggling to raise a team so naturally I put my hand up.

The event comprised alternating long (5.3 mile) and short (3.16 mile) legs.  I was second off, running a short leg. The standard was very high – many of the absolute top elite British runners turn out for their clubs including internationals.  About 70 teams were competing.

Our first runner, Matt had a storming run and we in the middle of the pack when I was released by the starter for my leg (Pictures Liz Adams):

NRR 1.jpg

So early in the race, the teams were still quite bunched together, so I had the rather dispiriting experience of being passed by many runners during my leg.  There wasn’t much I could do about it, I’m a 52 year old 37 minute 10K runner and many of these were skinny-as-a-lat twentysomethings who can run 10K in a smidge outside 30 minutes.

Knowing that I had a few niggles, I’d done a nice long warm up and I tried to pace it sensibly. There was no point in bombing off, then breaking down and hobbling round. The course was tough, the first two miles gradually uphill, with a descent for most of the last mile before drag back up to the line.

I covered the first mile in 6:33, the second in 6:11 and then turned right and tried to bomb it as fast as I could for the fast third mile

From the final bend, there was maybe 150 metres to the finishing banner.  I sensed a Chorlton runner on my shoulder, he was being urged on to beat me by a gaggle of his supporters.  I’m nothing if not competitive, so I fired the burners and gave it everything in the final sprint. It nearly killed me, but I was delighted that he didn’t pass me.

He was magnanimous enough to say in the finish funnel after “great finish mate, you were making some strange noises at the end there!”…

According to Strava, I was in the top 20 fastest of all for the finishing sprint on the day – out of over 1,000 top runners…I’m pleased about that!

I tried my best, but I still lost 9 places during my leg, handing over in 54th position.  My team mates did a great job in clawing back all the places I gave up and we finished 45th overall.  Our ladies team were 41st in the female 6-stage event.

Project London has fallen off the rails.  All I can do now is try to recover. I won’t run much at all for the next three weeks.  I’ll cross train, try to get some physio and hopefully my injuries will improve.

I’ll only start at London if I think that I can run pain-free.  Given my disrupted training, I’m not setting any targets. I genuinely have no idea how fast I could run a marathon, but I am pretty certain I couldn’t run one in a sub 3 hour time, so there is little point in stressing about it.

We’ve already made all our arrangements – booked trains and hotels, and Liz is on course for her first London in many years, so I’ll be there in some capacity.  I hope it will be as a runner, but if I am chief bag carrier and supporter, then that will be great too.


LM -3 weeks

11 stone 5.8 lbs

20 miles, longest run 11.2 miles

Parkrun : None

RunBritain Ranking 2.8 (unch) (MV50 rank 232)


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