Christy Turlington Burns runs for maternal health

For many first-time marathoners, shop talk centers on energy gels, carbo-loading and the most motivating iPod playlists. But for iconic model and women's health advocate Christy Turlington Burns, 42, those 26.2 miles represent something far weightier: the opportunity to save lives. For each of the 16,000 female runners who participated in last year's ING New York City Marathon, twice as many women die every month worldwide as a result of childbirth-related complications. Those complications would be almost entirely preventable with the proper medical tools and resources.

Turlington Burns developed a passion for the cause after a scary hemorrhage that immediately followed the birth of her daughter, Grace, now 8. (She and her husband, writer-director Ed Burns, also have a 5-year-old son, Finn.) In most Third World countries, such a complication likely would have proved fatal. Turlington Burns founded the nonprofit Every Mother Counts in 2010 to increase public awareness of and support for improved maternal and child health, and she is part of a 10-member team running the ING New York City Marathon on Sunday to raise money and awareness for her cause. espnW caught up with Turlington Burns to ask about her favorite recovery eats, her training strategy and proof that beauty is more than just skin deep.

espnW: Is this your first marathon?

Christy Turlington Burns: It is. I'd never run more than six miles, tops, before deciding to train. But it hasn't been a struggle. I'm almost 43 and was worried it would be hard on my joints, but after I passed some bigger numbers, like 10 and 12 miles, I thought, "Maybe I found my sport!" I've been athletic all my life and have been a yoga practitioner for 23 years. That prepared me enough so this wasn't a huge leap. I still practice [yoga] two or three times a week to loosen up my hip flexors.

Why choose a marathon as a way to raise awareness?

CTB: When Julie Smolyansky [CEO of Lifeway Foods] and I were recently in Bangladesh, screening my documentary, "No Woman No Cry," she mentioned having run a few marathons. I said, "Nah, I'm never gonna do that. I once had it on my bucket list but …" Then Crowdrise called EMC with some open marathon slots. I thought, "I can definitely find 10 people to run for us." But after a day or so, I thought, "Wait a minute. I founded this organization, I need to be a part of this race." That distance is such a huge barrier in terms of women accessing medical care, as it is not unheard of for women to have to travel 26 miles to reach a hospital should they require emergency obstetric care. Usually, 5K is the minimum distance a woman has to walk in many places -- not just in Third World countries, but in more and more U.S. cities as hospitals close down. We want to run so others don't have to.

Who else is running the marathon on Team EMC?

CTB: Julie, Heather [Armstrong, blogger and creator of Dooce], our executive director, Erin Thornton. One young woman whom I interviewed for my film -- she lost her sister in a maternal death in the U.S. She's running in memory of her sister, who was athletic and had been training for a marathon before getting pregnant. Our team co-captains are two brothers whose grandmother died in childbirth, so they never met her.

Do you listen to music while running or just zone out?

CTB: I started running in the New York countryside, where there are no shoulders on the road, and running with music didn't feel safe. Besides, what I love about running is the headspace -- I get to spend an hour or two in mental clarity. It's incredibly meditative.

Any piece of gear that you would never dream of running without?

CTB: I'll have to bronze my Brooks Ghost 4 shoes.

Any favorite ways to fuel/ recovery treat?

CTB: After long runs, we'll get these enormous chicken breakfast burritos at a neighborhood place in Tribeca. With a pint of beer -- that's our reward. I've been experimenting with GU energy gels; my favorites are mint chocolate and chocolate outrage, and I'll have one or two on long runs. And Lifeway kefir (a probiotic yogurt-like drink) has a lot of restorative properties and calcium for all that pounding on my bones. EMC actually partnered with Lifeway to offer a special shrink-wrapped blueberry bottle. (Note: Available at Whole Foods and natural food markets nationwide.)

Do you have any running inspirations?

CTB: Every day I'm out running, it's predominantly women. I see moms pushing strollers, and it's so impressive. There are also a lot of [elite] African runners representing countries with the highest rates of maternal deaths, like Mary Naali from Tanzania.

Are you nervous?

CTB: I don't doubt that I'll finish. I feel strong, I've run 21 miles. Everyone tells me the adrenaline will be so incredible, it'll carry me through the last part. I feel no pressure to get a certain time. I just feel ready.

Learn more about Team Every Mother Counts here.

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