Every Mile, Every Mother
Model, filmmaker, mother and campaigner, it’s hard to imagine how Christy Turlington Burns finds time to be runner. Yet the 46-year-old will take on the London Marathon this Sunday with two goals in mind: to break four hours for the first time, and to raise as much money as possible for her childbirth charity, Every Mother Counts.
We caught up with the New York resident to find out what role running plays in her life and how it can help pregnant mothers around the world.
You ran the New York City Marathon in 2011 and 2013, and Chicago this past year. What made you decide to run the London Marathon in 2015?
I ran my first marathon in 2011 and have trained for one each year since. However, the 2012 NYC Marathon was cancelled two days prior because of Hurricane Sandy. Each marathon I run, I have a goal in mind of finishing as close to four hours as possible. This past fall, in Chicago, I got very close, so I knew I would like to run at least one more marathon.
The London marathon is a favourite among so many marathoners and it is known to be a great course, so it seemed like a good fit to try and beat my personal record this year.
When did you start running? And why? How important is running in your life now?
I ran frequently as a child, whether it was to play for fun or for an organised sport, but over the years when I would try to make it a habit again it felt more like exercise than fun.
In 2010, I ran a 5k in New York for a Lung Cancer charity, because my father passed away from that disease. It was that race that prepared me for the opportunity, the following year, to run the NYC marathon for Every Mother Counts, the non-profit I founded dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother.
As I trained for that marathon, I realised that running has a lot of similarities to the experience of pregnancy and labour. Racing has also become a way to educate the public about one of the biggest barriers girls and women face when bringing life into the world – distance.
You’ve set yourself a tough goal of finishing in under four hours. Why was it important to do that? And are you on schedule to hit your target?
Running the race and finishing strong is all I hoped for the first few marathons I ran. Now I run all year round and have so much more experience and mileage under my belt, I wanted to push myself a little harder. Challenging one’s self is good sometimes even if you are running for others. I was very close to my goal in Chicago and knew then that it was possible.
What will be your next marathon after London?
I plan to run a half marathon in September in New York.
As a model, filmmaker, mother and advocate you obviously lead a very busy life. How do you fit all the hours of training into your day? What does a typical week of training involve?
Having a training schedule laid out is really helpful and I build the rest of my day around that. It certainly helps that my regular job is Every Mother Counts and that even when I run I am still advocating for global maternal healthcare.
When preparing for a marathon, I work out six days a week. I generally run three to four times per week and incorporate strength training and yoga. Most of these workouts last about an hour but I do one long run per week, which can take twice that time.
Do you listen to music when you run? If so, what?
I never listen to music when I run outdoors. I like to hear what’s around me. Whether it’s nature or people cheering during a race.
Do you run alone or with friends?
I do a combination of running alone and with my team. Sometimes it’ss great to run with others, especially to motivate you on a cold day, and sometimes I crave the solitude and peace of a run on my own.
Tell us about your charity, Every Mother Counts, which you founded in 2010, and your film Every Mile, Every Mother. Can you explain the connection between distance running and maternal health?
Every Mother Counts is a non-profit dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother. Every Mother Counts informs, engages and mobilises new audiences to take actions and raise funds that support maternal health programmes around the world. The funds raised support programmes that improve access to comprehensive maternity care in Haiti, Uganda, Malawi, India, Tanzania and the United States.
In many parts of the world, women have to walk a minimum distance of 5k to reach basic prenatal care and often even more than the distance of a marathon to reach emergency obstetric care. Any woman who has been through it understands how critical maternal healthcare is, and when things don't go as planned, two lives are at risk. When women don’t have access to critical care they are very vulnerable and that’s not the ideal way to bring a new life into the world.
In 2003, I experienced and endured a childbirth-related complication after the birth of my daughter. Had I not been in the care of a skilled midwife who managed the situation it could have been fatal. Every mother has the right to a chance to survive childbirth.
Every Mile, Every Mother, is a short film that I directed in partnership with Citizens of Humanity that explores long distance running as a metaphor for birth. The film follows 12 runners as they run Hood to Coast, a 200-mile relay race in Oregon, to highlight the barrier distance creates for women to access critical maternity care. The film illustrates the support and teamwork required to ensure a safe and empowering birth experience for mothers, similar to the support and teamwork required for long distance running.
How much are you hoping to raise for Every Mother Counts by running the London Marathon? And how much difference will this make to the women you are trying to help?
I am running the Virgin Money London Marathon to raise awareness and funds for Every Mother Counts. We invest 100 per cent of every dollar raised through our running programme, events and product partnerships in programmes that link mothers to care. I don’t have a specific financial goal for this race since I am running alone. I usually run with a team and together we have raised over $1 million since 2011.
Who are you inspired by?
I am inspired by all the women in my life – my sisters, my friends, colleagues. And the mothers I meet around the world who are resilient despite so much adversity.