Edward Norton: Running The NY Marathon, Tweeting And Raising Money For The Maasai

Edward Norton is sitting next to a Maasai warrior describing how he greases up his chest to prevent his nipples from bleeding.

The warrior is Samson Parashina, 32, President of the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust. On Norton's other side is Luca Belpietro, the Trust's Italian founder. Norton is President of the Board and is discussing preventative measures taken as he prepares for his first marathon (more on that below).

The three are part of a 30-person team, including three Maasai, running Sunday's New York Marathon to raise money for the MWCT, dedicated to protecting the Maasai's tribal homeland.

Norton's introduction to the MWCT came as a tourist eight years ago on a trip to Kenya to climb Kilimanjaro. Since then he's returned with friends and family (his sister works in Uganda and Rwanda and his father is heavily involved with the Nature Conservancy).

"People were so consistently blown away by what these guys were doing," Norton told Huffington Post of the Trust. "It was a very pioneering approach to community-based conservation. Over time I started to feel that even though it's a very specific, small project, it has real relevance as a model to conservation globally."

But it relied on tourism.

"I thought it would be great if this was funded in a more reliable way," Norton continued. "I thought that's what I could actually play a role in doing. Connect the good work they're doing with pipelines of support that were more reliable."

After years of cocktail parties and dinner parties, Norton wanted to do more.

"I'm pretty sure Samson thought all people do here is have dinner parties," Norton said. "The idea of running the marathon was something a lot more guys could engage with and participate in."

While Norton did not initially plan to run, everyone assumed he was participating.

"Suddenly it was like, oh god, I have to do this," Norton says he realized. "But it's been fun."

Training started in June and has taken Norton to Kenya and back, "It's very difficult. It has its plateaus. Getting to 12 miles you're like, this is ridiculous, I'm never going to get to 26. Then you get to 15 and you think you're never going to get to 18. Then you get to 20, and you're kind of in striking distance."

And while he's suffered shin splints, Norton has thus far avoided the previously-mentioned marathon scourge: bloody nipples.

"That horrified me so much when I heard about it that when I was running like, three miles, I was Vaseline-ing and band-aiding my chest.," Norton said as he made phantom circular strokes around his chest. "I was like, that is not going to happen to me."

In addition to training, the intensely private Norton started tweeting. After talking to Ashton Kutcher about money he raised via Twitter for malaria nets, Norton started a Twitter account that now has over 120,000 followers and has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"It you can convert social networking, sort of Obama-style, into meaningful communities of interest and support, then it's hard to look at it as superficial." But, Norton has his sharing limits. "There are ways you can do it where it's not about giving over your personal life. "

Still, Norton is enjoying it, branching out from just training updates and frequent fundraising contests to advertise the dating prospects of his friend and teammate Andrew Wolff (here, here and here) and comment on movies he's seen (he recommends "Where the Wild Things Are").

With the three Maasai currently staying with Norton for two weeks around the marathon (Samson says his host is "a good roommate"), Norton is also tweeting updates and pics of their visit. Of the three only Samson had ever been on a plane before.

But despite his new affinity for Twitter (the Maasai call Norton's blackberry 'his wife') he's taking a wait-and-see approach to continuing social networking after the marathon.

On marathon day spectators should be able to spot the three Maasai decked out in their native kits, albeit with Puma sneakers if they choose to forgo their native shoes. Norton and his other teammates (including David Blaine, Alanis Morissette, assorted friends, Trust supporters, and corporate sponsors) will be in white jerseys with a Maasai warrior on the front and big MWTC lettering and a Puma logo on the back.

They're still trying to figure out what pre-race preparation will be, but Norton anticipates getting the team together "for whatever the Maasai preparation for battle is."

And of course, carbo loading.

So if you see three Maasai warriors at Il Buco this week (Luca's favorite), wish them luck in Sunday's marathon.

For more, check out www.maasaimarathon.com (designed by Norton's girlfriend Shauna) which has information, team profiles, and photos and video of Norton and the Maasai guys training, talking and even doing yoga.

Visit Puma.com to buy a Maasai Marathon t-shirt, with 50% of profits going to the Trust.

Tune in to HBO November 3 for "By the People," the Obama documentary that Norton produced. The film includes then-Senator Obama's 2006 trip to Kenya and additional footage will be on the DVD.