Q&A with Christy Turlington Burns
I’ve long had this theory about exceptionally beautiful people: essentially, that because they’ve been winning at the beauty pageant of life for so long, their other traits go underdeveloped. But as with all generalizations (especially as they relate to appearance), this line of thinking is deeply flawed and there are always exceptions that blow it up.
Christy Turlington Burns is that exception. Yes, she is one of, if not the most prominent fashion model of the modern era. She began her career at age 14 (modeling for Calvin Klein), traveled the world, graced thousands of fashion magazine pages, wore the highest of the haute couture, and more.
And then one day she said goodbye to all that.
After complications from her first pregnancy, she got a Masters in Public Health from Columbia, directed a documentary, No Woman, No Cry (which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival), and then founded her charity, Every Mother Counts – an organization that helps make pregnancy and childbirth safe for mothers around the world.
I met Christy in Seattle during one of her visits here. Three years ago, EMC became our charity partner. We’ve had joint events that have been meaningful to both organizations. Us going to fashion week. The NYC Marathon. The joint EMC-Oiselle Hood to Coast Team.
Then last year, Christy qualified for Boston at the London Marathon – and finished the race a few weeks ago.
Boom. So much for my theory! Please enjoy my recent catch up with her…Christy is, as always, a woman among women… leading, giving, helping, running for all mothers, because every mother counts!
photo credit: Every Mother Counts
Sally: You qualified for Boston at the London Marathon last year! Were you expecting to do that?
Christy: I did not expect or plan to qualify for Boston in London. I was focused on running my first sub 4:00 marathon, but the possibility did cross my mind briefly before I left for London. I asked my friend Fain Sutter what the qualifying time was for my age group. In retrospect, that’s probably when I allowed myself to be open to the possibility.
Sally: London vs. Boston in terms of crowd support, course, overall experience... which was your favorite?
Christy: There were some similarities, actually. The weather in London last year was perfect. It had been unseasonably warm until the night before the race when it rained and cooled off with just the right amount of cloud cover. Both races start out of the center of the city in a town or village, and then the course takes you into the center of the city and the build up to the finish is pretty striking in both races with lots of cheering and support from the sidelines.
I felt great right from the start in London. I hadn’t studied the course so every mile and turn was a surprise and it felt as if I was running downhill almost till the end. When I realized that I had surpassed my goal by several minutes, I was ecstatic, and then later when I someone informed me that I was well qualified to run Boston, I knew I would this year.
Boston was much tougher for me all around. It was unseasonably warm and the reports that it would cool down were wrong. I still have quite a sunburn from the direct sun overhead the whole race. I drove the course the day before to get a better sense of the infamous hills and the downhill I had been warned about. Too much downhill is not good either, right? I wasn’t feeling my best from the start. It was crowded and hot and I have had some hamstring trouble that was pretty uncomfortable early on. By the time I reached the hills, it was pretty clear that I was not going to make my sub 4:00 goal. My time was 4:09:27. Not my best race day but it was still a thrill just to be there and to check that box.
Sally: Did people recognize you along the course in Boston? Or maybe it was the singlet? What kinds of shout outs did you get?
Christy: I did some press the week before the race to raise awareness for Every Mother Counts, so people that saw that coverage gave me lots of support along the way. I saw a lot of Oiselle singlets out there too - so I had those sisters to motivate me as well! The EMC singlet does get a lot of attention, even if people are seeing it for the first time. When people read the words out loud they almost always follow up with “yes, she does!” That always makes me see that running races around the world is a really good way for us to build awareness and raise funds for maternal health.
photo credit: Every Mother Counts
Sally: Overall, how was the Boston day for you? And where do you rank it in terms of the other marathons you've run? This was number 5, yes?
Christy: It was one of the tougher race experiences but a real milestone for me as a runner. I never expected to run a third marathon, let alone a fifth, and to qualify for such an esteemed race was beyond my wildest imagination.
Sally: When you're running, what's the number one thing that helps you keep going, stay focused?
Christy: It’s the mothers we are working for. It’s every mother who doesn’t have access and options to ensure safe motherhood. When something hurts, I imagine a woman walking as far without shoes and carrying something heavy on her head or back and that pain dissipates for a while. I also think of my labors and how you ride these waves of pain and pleasure and as those build, they bring you closer to delivery and meeting your child for the first time. Crossing the finish line is like that final push to birth a child and all those emotions of joy, exhaustion, pain, and euphoria all come flooding over you at once.
Sally: Did you have any GI issues at Boston?
Christy: I guess I am lucky or something because I never have GI issues when running.
Sally: When you were there, did you hang out with famous Bostonians? Like, were you, Uma Thurman and Ben Affleck hanging out race weekend?
Christy: I saw and spoke with Jake Gyllenhaal the night before. He was coincidentally eating at the same restaurant. I didn’t know until after the race, however, that he was there filming the movie about the Boston Marathon bombing.
Sally: You picked up running later in life. From your fashion model days, were there some, any, models who ran as part of their health regimen?
Christy: I ran periodically in cities that didn’t have great gyms or when I was jet lagged. I wasn’t aware of any of my peers running during that time though. Now, I know lots of models and stylists and editors who run. I think it’s great!
Sally: Before Lulu was a company, and yoga apparel got big, you did a collaboration with Puma...an amazing yoga-inspired collection called Nuala. Do you ever look back on that and realize you were just so ahead of the times?
Christy: I know Nuala was ahead of its time. It was an acronym that stood for natural, universal, altruistic, limitless and authentic. These are not just word but life values. When Lulu was a single store in Canada, they sold Nuala there. Puma was a great partner though. I learned a lot about the active wear business which was so different from fashion then. Now it’s all pretty similar and the lines between the two are a bit less clear, which is much more practical for us modern, working women. I used to come up to Boston frequently where they had their US headquarters at the time. People still come up to me to tell me how much they loved Nuala and miss it now. I own the name and brand so who knows. Maybe some day I will bring it back!
Sally: Among women runners, there's an ongoing debate about underwear vs. no underwear in running apparel. When you wear a pair of shorts with a liner in it - which way do you vote?
Christy: I wonder that all the time. I wear both even with the liner but it doesn’t seem necessary. I am going to try without. You just gave me permission to do that, Sally. Thank you.
Sally: What was your post-Boston meal and beverage - and with who? Were Uma and Ben there?
Christy: It was a quickie in the bar of the Four Seasons. A pint and some salty french fries with Team Every Mother Counts before running to catch the train back to NYC. The whole place was filled with marathoners and their families. It was great!
Sally: What's next??? Will you marathon again, and if so where?
Christy: I haven’t signed up for one yet but I have a few in mind. I only have two more of the biggies, Berlin and Tokyo. Those both look and sound fun. And Big Sur is also on my list. We have a big team presence there for the first time this year. I love the idea of being in a small race with such an incredibly beautiful and challenging course.
Sally: Thank you CTB!!! We are, as ever, your hugest fans.
Christy: Thank you, Sally. The love and respect is mutual!