Runners Ready for Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans

They’ve descended on New Orleans, wearing beads on Bourbon Street, stepping into jazz clubs on Frenchman Street, walking about the art exhibits along Jackson Square.

More 20,000 runners and walkers have crashed The Big Easy, ready to hit the town for Sunday’s Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K.

Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans

On Saturday, many of them cruised the Convention Center expo, like the Sassy Six. The women, ranging from 40 to 58 years old, are from Memphis, bonded by their passion to run, bond, travel and enjoy a rip-roaring good time.

They were partying at a St. Jude’s fund raiser during St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville a couple years ago when someone at the front of the room asked, “Who are those ladies in the back?”

“We’re the Sassy Six,” one replied, making up their name on the spot.

They’re Wendy Ray, Gerry Wartenberg, Judith Glover, Gretchen Deatherage, Sherry Mitchell and Elaine Parker. They log weekly long runs every Sunday, ranging anywhere from 8 to 22 miles.

Dedicated? A couple years ago the St. Jude Memphis Half Marathon was canceled when a snow storm turned roads to virtual ice-skating rinks. The Sassy Six went out that freezing morning and ran anyway, 13.1 miles.

One of their sayings was created: Suck It Up Buttercup.

Said Ray, “We love to run, we love to get together and we hold each other accountable.”

One of the youngest runners on the course Sunday will be 13-year-old Ashton Justice of Bentonville, Ark., who’ll be running his first half marathon.

Ashton’s mother, Rhonda, roped him into tackling the race. Rhonda has run about 20 half marathons and marathons the past eight years.

With Ashton’s approval, she signed him up for the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon days after finishing last year’s race. Mother and son were planning to run together until Rhonda dropped a cinder block on her foot while setting up the family Christmas tree, breaking a bone in her foot.

She’ll hobble her way about the course, eventually meeting Ashton at the finish line.

Asked what his training has been like, Ashton said, “I enjoy it when I have music. When I don’t, it’s not very much fun.”

With local bands spread throughout the course, he won’t be lacking music Sunday.

Mary Harokopus coaches a running group in Dallas called Run On Dallas. Harokopus, 54, brought a team of seven runners who’ll be tackling the marathon.

“I love the vibe,” she said of New Orleans. “The music, the food, history, the architecture.”

Harokopus took up running at 40. Her father died at 64 and Harokopus had suffered some heart murmurs.

“I was afraid I was going to suffer heart issues,” she said.

The woman fell hard for the running lifestyle. Her marathon count: more than 70.

Meanwhile, Justin Villere, will be chasing the clock Sunday. The 31-year-old from Philadelphia wants to run a sub-3:05 marathon, which would qualify him for Boston. He picked New Orleans because of the flat, runner-friendly layout.

Of Boston, Villere said, “It’s on my life bucket list.”

All 50 states and 32 countries will be represented in Sunday’s Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K. More than 60 percent of the participants are women. Cheerleaders and bands will line the course.

At the finish line, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, plus J. Roddy Walston & The Business will rock the post-race concert.