When Andrea Helenthal was a high school softball player, the only running she thought about doing was between the bases. Then, when she started playing in college, her team at Savannah College of Art and Design had to run a timed 2-mile every day. "That's when I actually got into running for its own sake," she said.
On Sunday, she'll join 45,000 others for a running tour of the five boroughs at the ING New York City Marathon. It will be Helenthal's second marathon and just her second race overall. "I kind of want to redeem myself for Philadelphia," she said, referring to her 2009 run there where she "blew my knee at 18 miles" and struggled through the last eight to the finish.
To better her chances, Helenthal revamped her training. "I think I overemphasized the long runs last time," she said. "It put too much stress on my knees. For New York, I focused more on my midweek runs. I only did three long runs, but I did more intervals."
She also opted for more moderate terrain, instead of starting her workouts going up the grueling climb up Grumman Hill, behind the Outdoor Sports Center where she works. When she's not putting in miles, Helenthal is the Sports Center's graphic designer, responsible for the look of the store's ads, brochures and web presence. She applied for the job "out of the blue" three years ago, and has been working there ever since.
After New York, Helenthal wants to explore her talent at shorter distances, as well as running Chicago (she's an Illinois native) and Dublin.
On Sunday, she'll have friends stationed every two miles over the last 16 to cheer her on. And when she finishes, they plan to celebrate with a dinner at Bobby Flay's Bar American restaurant. For Helenthal, a strong performance in New York will be as sweet as any home run.