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October 29, 2009

Luca Belpietro

Edward Norton

Samson Parashina


MARY WITTENBERG: Good afternoon. Welcome to a special press conference this afternoon. Running. Such a seemingly simple, easy action. Legs up-and-down, arms pumping rhythmically. On Sunday, our best in the world at times will make it look really easy, but all of us runners know that well beyond the basic mechanics of running is a tremendous vehicle for doing good.
As you know, New York Road Runners our mission is to exercise that power to do good through running, and introduce people to healthier and better lives through it.
In these last many years we increasingly really believe that we can change the world for the better through running. And one of the programs we have been most proud of is our charity program.
Over the last few years we've been able to help a number of different charities really deliver their mission, and deliver against their mission and pursue their goals through having runners run in this race.
And over the years we've had celebrities run this race for a whole variety of reasons. But today we're going to be really excited to introduce our runner, two runners, and introduce a charity to all of you. And I want to give a special hat's off, because I think in this case Edward Norton has done the best job we've ever seen of somebody taking his own platform and using it for the good of others.
So I'm going to turn it over to Sara Hunninghake, but we welcome you. We're wishing you all a great day on Sunday. And want you to know that at New York Road Runners, if we can help you serve others, then that's a really good thing. So thank you.
SARA HUNNINGHAKE: These guys are with the Maasai Wilderness Conservation trust. You see Edward Norton, and to his left, Samson Parashina, who is the president of the Maasai Wilderness Conservation trust in Kenya. And Luca Belpietro who is the trust's founder.
So, Edward, if you could just start us off and say how did this whole idea come about of running the marathon to raise money?
EDWARD NORTON: I've been on the board of this organization for a number of years. I've been the head of the board for the last two years. And we've always raised money in very traditional ways up until this year. We had hosted dinner party-type events and all of the familiar kind of ways of soliciting private donations and things like that.
For us, the frustration in that was that this organization has a conservation organization and a community-based organization is one of its really great strengths is that it is a partnership between professional conservationists like Luca and a community of people in this case, the Maasai people in Southern Kenya, to work in collaboration on how to create sustainable relationships with important eco systems.
But in the fundraising that we were doing to support the organization, the partnership was much less evident. We were having a difficult time figuring out how to involve and engage the community in the fundraising that we were doing back here.
Samson has come over a number of times and is a wonderful articulator of the issues, but we were looking for something a little more dynamic.
So we have a corporate supporter in this global architecture called RMJM. And working with them to come up with more dynamic fundraising techniques, someone in the RMJM communications team suggested, you know, the Maasai are such great runners, Kenyans are such great runners. What if we fielded a team in the New York Marathon?
It was an idea that instantly got traction with everyone in our organization because we -- it was very organic to the people involved, and it gave us instantly a way to involve people from the Kenyan side of the organization.
So that's what we pursued. We pursued then figuring out how do we maximize the idea of a team running for a good cause, and how do we build kind of a multi-pronged fundraising strategy off of the idea of a team running in the marathon.
We have 30 runners running on our team. Three of the guys from the Maasai community, Samson, and Parashi and Sunte are all people who work with the trust who are running. Luca is running and myself. Then we have runners from some of our corporate sponsors are RMJM, and a company called AE Com.
And we've pursued a fundraising strategy, a web-based strategy really. We've created a website for our team through which people could sponsor the runners individually or sponsor the whole team. We've pursued corporate sponsorships. Had companies like Puma get on board in a very pro active way behind our team.
And we've pursued kind of the most interesting experiment is I think we've pursued kind of a grass roots campaign through social networking tools like Twitter, to try to engage lots and lots of people broadly and following the experiences of the guys here in New York and of our training and contributing through small donations. And that's been the nature of our attack.
SARA HUNNINGHAKE: Samson, can you tell us how your experience has been here in New York? How it's perhaps been different than the other times you came?
SAMSON PARASHINA: My experience here this time has been great. Still there is a difference between obviously where I'm coming from, Kenya, and New York. The buildings to me are still huge. I cannot relate to something that I've seen in my country.
This time around I get to meet a great man I always mention most of the time to people, David Blaine (smiling). He has been doing so much amazing things that are exciting to me, it's hard to express. It's really a magic that if I take him back to my country they would say this is like a witch doctor.
Also I'm a little bit concerned on this run about the weather and the paved road. But this time around things have been okay so far. And I'm very glad that I'm going to participate in this running actively, not like the other time when usually we come and we have a cocktail dinner and things like that. But this time I'll heat the road personally.
SARA HUNNINGHAKE: Luca, can you tell us just how all of the attention from this initiative will benefit or help the trust moving forward? What sort of impact will it have?
LUCA BELPIETRO: I think already it is in a way like Edward explained. This organization started very small in a way just in the network of people who came and visited the camp in Kenya that led to the creation of the trust. And seeing that we moved ahead and trying to spread the message and involved an incredible number of people.
This issue with Twitter has been incredible, and I think the impact has already been with the communities. This is the first time that they can relate with something that is not away from them.
For them, running is part of their life. The Maasai are incredible walkers. They walk very long distances pretty fast. And the fact that there is a team that is going to the U.S. and run a marathon for them, is something that I think will have an impact there, and being here, I hope to have an impact here as well.
SARA HUNNINGHAKE: Thank you. We'll open it for questions.

Q. How does this compare to preparing for a movie or anything else that you've ever done in the preparation for the marathon? Is it the same feeling you think you'll have out on race day as you go on either stage or acting?
EDWARD NORTON: I think that -- no (laughing). I think that I've been doing my day job long enough now that the butterflies kind of fly in formation, you know. I think this is much more adrenalizing than any of the work I've done professionally in a while.
I think it's just like it's a little bit comparing apples and oranges. The kind of work you do to prepare for a film or a play is a strange combination of intellectual and emotional, and research-type work. I think even things that I've sort of pursued a physical component in a role, usually, are much less demanding than this.
So I think this is the most sort of nervous and excited I've felt in anticipation of an event in a while.
We took the guys out and drove the course the other day because I think we thought it would benefit them to see what the nature of the course really was. And I succeeded in terrifying myself (laughing). I'm not sure it was a good move for me psychologically at all.
But we're all excited about it. Everybody. Most of us are first timers. There's a couple veterans on our team. But most are first timers. And so I think there is kind of -- it's fun. Like there is a team sense of nervous anticipation and everybody's trading emails furiously with all of our latest wisdoms and tips that are going to save us in these last few days?

Q. I know this is your first marathon, but what does running mean to you, and how long have you been running? Besides doing this for charity, has it helped you in any other way in your work or just in your own life?
EDWARD NORTON: Yeah, I like running. I've always run. I've run mostly as a matter of training for other athletics. I played sports, and I have trained for one reason or another to get into a certain kind of shape for a role or something like that.
So running, you know, I've always liked running. I'm just generally not really pursued serious distance running in the past. But I do like running. And I think New York is a great city to run in. I'm a New Yorker, and there's a lot more good running in New York than most people think.
But I don't know. It's like once you -- it's like flying planes or something. Once you get into it, you realize it's a lot more complicated than you thought it was. There are so many theories about how to run and what to wear when running, and what shoes help, and what shoes hurt, and barefoot running now. It's like for something as simple and unadorned as running, I've found there is an incredible learning curve once you kind of start nosing into it seriously.
But I like it all. I think it's fun. And I think what Mary was sort of implying, I find it to be true. I think running tends to elevate a lot of other things in your life in the sense that it increases your energy. Increases your sense of -- it's a confrontation with yourself that I think is very healthy. Very positive?

Q. What is the website, and how much money do you expect to raise through this venture?
EDWARD NORTON: The website is www.maasaimarathon.com. You can follow on our -- you can learn a lot about the organization and follow our fundraising and meet all of the runners individually. All of the runners have bios in there so you can read what the Maasai guys have written about their own involvement. Or Luca or David Blaine or Alanis Morisette among other people.
There's actually quite a bit of good media now that's been published on the organization and on the effort. If any of you are checking it out, I'd encourage you to read on the media tab on the website. There is a really excellent piece that someone wrote about -- I think it says the Maasai marathon story. And it's a very -- it's a very good. In depth, encapsulation of the roots of this organization. How and what led Luca to create the effort, and how Samson got involved, how I got involved. So if anyone's looking for a deeper back story into how this whole team formed up, it's a good piece.
We never wanted to limit our fundraising to a cap. So I think officially on the website we've raised about $560,000 at the moment. I think that's a good bit short of where we'll actually end up, because a number of our main corporate sponsors haven't actually -- we haven't actually tallied their contributions yet. So I'm not sure I really want to put a number on it. But I think we're doing very well, and I think we'll end up quite a bit higher than we are now?

Q. You mentioned the team aspect a lot. Have you guys been training together as a team? Will you run together as a team?
EDWARD NORTON: Yeah. Like I said, there's over 30 runners. So we've been training. And they're coming from all over the world. We have people from Hong Kong, and Scotland, and San Francisco. This team is made up of people coming from a number of different corporations and supporters of ours. So it's people coming from all over.
I had the chance with one of the other runners who is a friend of mine -- we were in Kenya this summer, so we had a chance to train for three weeks with Samson and Luca and the other Maasai guys.
So we were running, and we got to run in their environment for a couple of weeks, which was great, great fun, and great training because it's a little more high elevation and very challenging, sort of unpaved terrain. So that was a lot of fun.
I think there's too many of us to run in a block. We don't want to like jam up the pipeline, and I think we've got people at very different levels. Like I said, we have a number of first timers.
We have some veterans who I think are going to run faster for sure. And we've got at least one runner, our friend Parashi who has come from Kenya with Luca and Samson, though he has no formal training as a runner, was very, very known as a great runner within the community, which is one of the reasons Luca and Samson recruited him to run.
He's such a good runner that we asked Sara to help us link him up with an elite pace partner, because he really wants to run, but he was nervous about separating from the rest of us and getting lost in the city. So I think Sara helped us find a runner who is a sub 2 and a half hour marathoner to run with Parashi so that he can chase, you know, as fast as he's capable of.
I mean, Parashi ran some test pace last weekend in the park with this pro that Sara set us up with. And he ran 6 minute splits very easily in sandals made out of old off-road tires. So I think Diego thinks that he can run a very, a very competitive and strong race. I think that we're all pretty confident that Parashi will be showered and having dinner when we're crossing the Queensboro Bridge (smiling).

Q. Can you also share how your training has been? How your preparations have been as well?
LUCA BELPIETRO: We trained in Kenya. I started with climbing Kilimanjaro which was the third time for me. And it was uphill from there, so a lot of training, a lot of fun. A lot of good energy. A lot of worries, so the energy was up-and-down.
When we're in Kenya together running, it was fun. We had to be careful of buffalos and things. It's different from what you guys are probably used to here?

Q. How about you, Samson?
SAMSON PARASHINA: My training has been great. As Luca mentioned, we have been always keen walkers, but we have not got to go like 26 miles at a go. So the training for us was something very appealing. But we were more concerned with wildlife.
In Africa we have animals, especially the place that we are living. We get concerned of buffalos. So instead of looking traffic of cars, you check if there's traffic of animals and then you give way.
The terrain is uneven. There are some lava rocks, and those are the pains that you get when you train on these back in our country. It's very different from here because you have paved road. So the only pain we will undergo is heating some lava rock on this training, but it has been great for us.
EDWARD NORTON: I think that you or Parashi was talking about the reaction that people in the community were having to the fact that you were running with no apparent purpose.
SAMSON PARASHINA: Yeah, the community were looking at us and thinking why? Why Samson is running or Parashi by themselves in the middle of the bush? They think that we are crazy. We are turning like Mzungu. Mzungu is white people.
So he thinks why are these people getting happy running with themselves. We have to explain to them this time around we have to contribute something for you guys, and that's why we are I see running like crazy (smiling).

Q. Of course there are so many great Kenyan runners. As Maasais, do you recognize all those great Kenyan runners or is it different tribes so you don't think about them as much?
SAMSON PARASHINA: We recognize them and we respect them. We knew that coming to participate in the New York Marathon, obviously they are ahead of us, but you'll see Kenyan in the middle. Maasai, we didn't get this training. There is nobody who ever tried to train the Maasai. But I think if someone starts something like that, the Maasai can do better as other tribes have been doing very well in Kenya.

Q. Do you have any idea how fast you're expecting to go?
EDWARD NORTON: You know, I've been a little reluctant to throw down a claim at a time because you all will kill me about it later. So I think I was -- I had a goal. I ran into shin splints for the first time in my life, which was interesting. It forced me to notch it back a little bit in terms of how aggressively I was running. But I think if I don't -- if I don't have a bad day with shins or my Achilles doesn't kink up on me, I think, you know, I think I'll -- I think I'll beat Sara Palin (smiling).
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to present the three guys with name bibs so they can get extra support on race day. And we'll do a quick photo and call it a day. Thank you so much.

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