Not only has she founded a parkrun and a marathon but she’s run over 180 marathons, three 10-in-10 marathon events and a 100-miler – despite having a serious knee disorder. Lisa Jackson meets Melanie Sturman…
“ I was most definitely not born to run,” says Melanie Sturman, 46, from Thetford in Norfolk. “I don’t find running easy, but hey, who does? I have a congenital knee disorder where my kneecap does not sit correctly so it rubs on the bone and, because it’s out of alignment, I don’t have a natural running gait. As a result, when I started running in 2011, it was difficult and I couldn’t even run a mile. Being overweight didn’t help, but I was determined to succeed so I taught myself to slowly jog for five minutes and walk for one minute. It took me three months to work up to walk/running 15 miles.
“The reason I took up running was because I’d been inspired by Paula Radcliffe when she broke the world marathon record. I thought back then that one day I’d like to have a go at running 26.2 miles and so, in 2011, I entered the London Marathon. My time of 6hrs 3mins wasn’t as quick as I’d hoped because, leading up to it, I’d had a fever but I enjoyed it so much that six months later I did the Liverpool Marathon and knocked 45 minutes off my time.
“From then on I was unstoppable: the next year I completed six marathons, upped that to 27 in 2013 and then did 52 marathons in a year in both 2014 and 2015. I ran my 100th marathon in February 2015 and I’ve now done 182 marathons, including eight ultras.
“Due to my knee disorder, most runs are painful but I have learned to live with it and I now tape my knee to pull my kneecap off the bone beneath it to stop the bone being worn away even further. Last year my orthopaedic consultant said the damage was done during childhood and that I can continue to run as long as I can. Massage and taping my knee are just two things I do now to keep myself injury free. I also know when not to run: I’m aware of when my body needs a rest or when I’m in danger of getting injured. I strongly believe bodies need time to heal and will therefore only do two short runs in between each marathon.
“My first ultra was a 30-miler and I’ve since done seven more, the longest being a 100-mile event in 2016. It was held in July and the heat was so intense that I feared I was going to overhydrate and risk kidney problems. I drank fluids and ate small amounts of food after each of the 27 laps I did and, at 65 miles, I changed my kit and had my blisters treated. I finished with a dream time (for me) of 24hrs 22mins.
“People often ask me what my favourite event has been and I have to say it’s the Great Barrow Challenge, which involves doing 10 marathons in 10 days. When I did it the first time in 2014 I was inexperienced and plagued by blisters but, when I came around the corner on day 10, and saw dozens of fellow parkrunners waiting to cheer me across the finish line, it was an incredibly emotional experience. The second edition took place during a heatwave and I had to battle the risk of dehydration and sunstroke. On the 10th day I started feeling confused but did manage to finish. By the time I did it for the third time I’d become proficient in the art of Twitter and so sent out daily tweets to report on my progress. To help make it fun, I wore a different fancy dress outfit each day. The 2016 event was plagued by terrific thunderstorms so, even though it was held in the height of summer, a lot of it was completed on flooded tracks with calf-high puddles. This year I’m going to do it again – after all, as the only woman who’s completed it three times, I have a record to defend!
“The London 2012 Olympics inspired me to set up Thetford parkrun: I’d spent so much of my running life training alone and wanted a safe environment where people of all ages and abilities could take up running. Four years after starting we now have almost 3,000 people registered and up to 200 runners turning up each week which is incredibly rewarding.
“My other baby is the Thetford Iceni Marathon (marafunevents.co.uk). When I ran my 100th marathon in 2015, I not only celebrated with cake, as is the tradition, but decided to organise a marathon, too. I wanted to create an event to encourage more local people to start running and, of course, to put my lovely town on the marathon map. It was wonderful seeing this event treble in size in its second year.
“The secret for me is to keep enjoying running and not to pressure myself to try to get PBs all the time – I don’t want running to become a chore. I have an incredibly stressful job as a specialist nurse and running is my stress relief. My future goals would be to beat my current marathon PB of 4hrs 20mins, to break 24 hours in a 100-miler and to run my 200th marathon this year on 8 July, day 10 of the Great Barrow Challenge. Oh, and I’ll be 50 in 2020 and by then I’d like to have run 300 marathons.
“Running has definitely changed my life. It’s given me the confidence to cope with challenging situations and I’ve learned not to give up on things when they get tough or painful. In 2011, I was a size 16 and now I’m a size 12 and have lost one-and-a-half stone. I’ve met so many amazing individuals on this journey, from Olympians to celebrities – they once inspired me and now I feel I can inspire others, too.”