Yuri Kano running for her country in Sunday's NYC Half-Marathon

NEW YORK -- Yuri Kano had planned to run a marathon last weekend in her native Japan, so physically, she's in great shape for Sunday's New York City Half-Marathon. But her well-conditioned cardiovascular system will be humming with something more than pure adrenaline when she takes the start line in Central Park.

Kano arrived in New York from Tokyo on Thursday night, leaving her stricken country with sadness but also with the hope that she might cheer up people there with a good performance. On Friday afternoon, the diminutive 32-year-old walked into a news conference wearing a pink windbreaker and a shy expression. She has raced in New York many times, but never under these circumstances.

"It broke my heart to see the devastating scenes in northern Japan,'' said Kano, whose family is from Osaka and was not directly affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. She has an apartment in Tokyo that was rattled, and her sleep has been interrupted nightly by aftershocks over the past week.

"It was difficult to concentrate on training, especially when I've seen the news," Kano said. "I'm also thinking about how I can help them. ... We have to endure and do what we can do. I want to be one of the ones who is fighting against this disaster."

Kano is the only elite Japanese runner in either the men's or women's field in Sunday's event. She has finished in the top four at this race three times, improving her time in each outing and logging a time of 1:10.31 in 2008.

More recently, she suffered a bruising fall early in the 2009 New York City Marathon after inadvertently becoming tangled with another runner, but she persevered to finish ninth. Kano had intended to defend her title at the March 13 Nagoya Marathon, but the race was canceled due to the national disaster.

New York Road Runners club president and CEO Mary Wittenberg said organizers expect between 10 and 30 recreational runners from Japan to be among the 10,000 participating in the event.

This is the second time in the past few months the NYRR has embraced a competitor coming out of a calamitous situation. This past fall, Edison Pena, one of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days, limped to the finish of the New York City Marathon less than a month after being freed.