Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon set for Sunday _lowres


More than 13,000 are expected to participate in the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon and Half Marathon on Sunday morning.

But in reality, only a handful of racers have a chance of winning one of the races. They’re called “elites,” and they live up to the title by running award-setting times around the globe each year as they continue to stretch the capabilities of the human body.

Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans officials have put together a strong stable of athletes for the 2015 event; especially in the half marathon (13.1-mile) race. That distance has grown increasingly popular in recent years and the registrations in New Orleans prove it, as more than 8,500 of the entries are in the half marathon.

Leading the pack is last year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon champion Ben Bruce. Bruce, an Arizona resident and a world-class steeplechaser, won five Rock ‘n’ Roll full marathons last year. He’s in the half in New Orleans, and has a top time of 1 hour, 2 minutes, 53 seconds at that distance.

“By name and by résumé, he should be your odds-on favorite,” said Tracy Sundlun, Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Senior Vice President of Events and one of the marathon series’ co-founders. “Ben is extremely talented. He ran a 1:05.50 in Arizona last weekend in the (half marathon) there.”

Sundlun said any of the other seven elites in the half marathon field could win, however. Tommy Neal of Colorado Springs, Colorado, was a 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier. He has a best time of 1:05 in the half. Paolo Natali of Italy has a similar mark in the half. Massachusetts resident Mike Popejoy does too, and Wisconsin’s Zachary Meineke, Colorado’s Tyler Sewald, and California’s Taos Poole are not far behind that time.

“There’s going to be some good fun for at least four of those guys to go below 1:05,” Sundlun said. “New Orleans is famous for being a fast track.”

In the women’s half marathon, Sundlun pointed to Janet Cherobon-Bawcom as the favorite. The Kenyan-born Arizona resident has been a member of the U.S. Olympic Team at 10K, and holds a best time of 1:09:55 in the half marathon.

Her top challengers figure to be Silvia Del Fava of Houston and Maria Elena Calle, a national record-holder in her native Ecuador and a five-time All-America runner at Virginia Commonwealth University. Pennsylvania’s Jennifer Bigham, Massachusetts’ Lauren Floris, Arkansas’ Tia Stone, and Wyoming’s Becky Sondag also could be among the top finishers in the half.

In the full marathon (26.2-miles,) Mark Pepin of Homewood, Alabama, appears to be the top seed, Sundlun said. A Clemson graduate, Pepin has a best time of 1:09 in the half marathon. Sundlun didn’t know much more about Pepin, but said the time translates to a potential winning mark in the full Rock ‘n’ Roll race.

Rafael Cueto of the Dominican Republic is a Masters runner with a best time of 2:34.39 in the full marathon.

On the women’s side of the marathon, Utah’s Christina Perry has a best time of 2:48.29 at the distance.

New Hampshire’s Denise Sandahl is just behind with a PR of 2:50.02 that she logged at the Hartford (Connecticut) Marathon in 2014. Katie Kramer of Oklahoma also has a best of 2:50 that she ran in 2013. Laura Paulsen of Minnesota, Dee Atkins of South Carolina, Lauren Blankenship of Georgia, and Nancy Schubring of Michigan are viable candidates for the top prize at full distance, as well.

“I think at least four, maybe five or six of the women in the full race will have a shot at the podium,” Sundlun said. “You look at Perry’s 1:14.31 in the half marathon. The Olympic Trials qualifying time is 1:15. That translates into a 2:40 or better for her. I can pretty much guarantee that the top four are gearing up for the trials (which will be in Los Angeles in February 2016.)”

“Everyone who runs an (U.S. Olympic Trials) qualifying time at our race, we put an American Flag on their shoulders when they finish,” he said. “I hope we’re hanging a lot of flags on shoulders this Sunday.”

The Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon and Half Marathon will begin at 7:30 a.m. at the corner of Poydras and Camp streets near the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The half marathon will be staged in the CBD, the French Quarter, the Esplanade Ridge and will end at City Park. The full marathon will enter and exit the park from the vantage and continue down Wisner Boulevard and Robert E. Lee to the Lakefront, before returning and finishing at Roosevelt Mall in City Park.

A concert featuring KONGOS and Trombone Shorty will be held after the race in City Park. The concert is free and open to the public.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans 10K also will begin 7 a.m. Sunday. A Health and Fitness Expo will take place Friday and Saturday in Hall J of the Morial Convention Center. The expo will feature the latest in running technology, fitness apparel, health and nutrition information, and interactive displays. It will be held from noon until 6 p.m. on Friday, and from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday.

The expo is free to the public, as well.