I'm not really one to write race reports anymore as I don't usually have much to say that I think would be helpful to people. However, this race was different. Much, Much different.
In general, I don't do triathlons in the winter-mainly because I really don't like training on my bike trainer for hours on end. But when friends suggested Cuba (Baby!), I couldn't resist.
I've never had a strong urge to go to Cuba, not out of disinterest but because it's been off limits that I just never thought much about it. As for the race itself, the times from the last several years put my slowest time at a HIM in contender for the podium.
So we registered. When all was said and done, we had 11 folks from DC and NYC coming. 8 athletes and 3 sherpas. Unlike other trips, we all did a lot of research and chose our location close to the race start (it's a two transition race). Wisest. Move. Ever. Cabs are plentiful but the prices vary widely. Add a bike to that and, well...
I won't regale you with details of this amazing country. I will tell you to go-in the strongest possible way. It is truly the land that time forgot. But far from being depressing or unsettling, it is a country filled with remarkably happy, hopeful, but incredibly impoverished people. They are kind, curious, and remarkably generous people. Happily. there are a ton of Italians there and I am much more proficient in Italian than Spanish-and no, they are actually not that similar.
If you ever take a bike to Cuba-RESEARCH YOUR AIRLINE!!!! Southwest and Delta have an embargo against transporting large suitcases (including bikes) there. JetBlu, United and American are ok. I can't tell you how many people showed up to the airport only to have their bikes rejected. So not only are you without a bike, but you now have a flight to make and you have to deal with what to do with your bike. I met one couple from Denver who stuffed their bikes in their car in LT parking. We all hope they're still there when they return.
Renting bikes is an iffy proposition. The best one of my teammates could do was a 30lb touring bike. She earned badass points but also spent much of the rest of our time in Cuba complaining of a sore back.
There are no CO2 cartridges in Cuba. None. Let me repeat: there are no CO2 cartridges in Cuba. Coupled with the fact that there is no mechanic roaming the course, you either made do with a hand pump or a flat took you out of the race.
There is only water at the aid stations. And it is not iced. This includes the run-which is done on the surface of the sun-but more on that later.
There is no food at any point during the race except for what you bring with you. Plan accordingly.
English was only sparsely spoken at registration and luckily we stopped by there on Thursday and avoided the long line on Friday. This was caused by a rather extensive medical interview complete with temperature taking (under the arm). None of us could ascertain what this was for but our assumption was that any sign of illness would pull you from the race. Add to the fact that the Doctors are all working for the State and it made for a disconcerting experience. I wasn't about to ask why they were doing this.
Race morning: Much ado about wetsuit or not. It never occurred to me that it would be an option so I just brought my speed suit. Turns out, there was much back and forth from no wetsuit, to anyone over 50 could wear it in the HIM distance (there was also a sprint that day-which I spent the entirety of the run asking myself Why the F I didn't sign up for that) to everyone can wear it. Oh well.
There were two porta potties at T1. They had been open for use the previous two days. Unfortunately, I had to use one the morning of. That experience will haunt me to my dying day-which I wished had been at hand the moment I stepped into it. You cannot imagine it. Trust me. I really don't think I'll ever feel clean again. And I am not squeamish about theses kinds of things.
The swim was great. Up one channel of a marina and down another. Most of it was shaded, clear salt water and not crowded (only about 150 people in the race total). :34' and change-a bit longer for me but not bad for Feb.
T1: Lots of urgent sounding Spanish being yelled at me (my Spanish is ok but add heightened emotion to both the speaker and listener and I had no idea what was being said). I ran all the way to my bike before I was told I HAD to use the changing tent to put on my shoes and helmet. The tent is open so I'm still confused about that part. That added a bit to T2.
Bike: the good and bad thing about racing a long course race with few competitors is that you get to ride alone. The bad thing is-you can't always be sure where you're going-or more accurately, are you going in the right direction? This was true for about the first 10 minutes of the course. Then you enter Havana proper and the massive traffic jam and death stares tell you where to go. It was a simple 7 shape course. Ride into town on for the top of the 7, turn around and do about 18 out and back to T2. Sounds simple enough. Only problem? PEOPLE IN CUBA ARE NOT USED TO TRIATHLONS-LET ALONE STOPPING AT INTERSECTIONS AND LOOKING BOTH WAYS BEFORE CROSSING ON FOOT. Happily, I know the word to yell is: Cuidado!!!!! I clipped a woman who stepped in front of me only to have her taken out by the guy behind me. All I heard was yelling and the crunch of carbon on concrete. Once we were out of the city proper, it was all highway. Which is good-except for the air quality. Now, I'm not going to get political here BUT, if you are not a fan of the Clean Air Act-I encourage you to go to Cuba and ride your bike. The amount of crap being spewed by 1950s retrofitted Fords and Chevys AND little two-cylce Russian and Polish econocars is disgusting. By the last 10 miles of the ride, I felt sick to my stomach. But I stayed in zone and had a 2:54 bike. (it was actually over 3:00 but that included a 7 minute stop to reattach my aeoro-bottle (user error). For those of you who have read Jason's Boise 70.3 report, there was a guy who flew past me (based on his number he was likely in my AG) and I instantly nick-named him Sanchez. Got to see Jenn, my friend Blake, and Marcie.
T2 was straight forward except that I was so shocked to have someone take my bike for me that I forgot to grab my BCAAs and EAAs so started the 13.1 run with no nutrition. No bueno. I also lost my sunscreen. Really no bueno. For those of you familiar with Old Havana, the Malecon is a 4 mile stretch of road that curves along the ocean. It's fascinating to see Cuban life there. At night. During the day, it is a romp along the surface of the Sun. There is no shade. Not. One. Bit. Aside: In Cuban and Mexico, you only get your number on your calf-no age. Based on this, I had figured I was sitting, at best, in 4th place. With a considerable difference between me and 3rd. So I decided to race for time. Until I started to feel like a chicken on a Boston Market Rotisserie. Add to that the aforementioned water, while plentiful, had been sitting in the sun for 5 hours. It was hot to the touch. Marcie claims she saw ice but I think she was hallucinating. But drink it I did. And pour it on me. Bottom line-I came to do this race for fun. I just didn't have the mental fortitude to push myself further into the pain cave and embrace the suck. There was suck enough on the course already. Until I saw 'Sanchez" walking forlornly up ahead. I started to run again and passed him and another guy in my age group (I quickly remembered my 9th grade Spanish and asked: Quantos anos hai?). I got to see EVERYONE-walk with Marcie and Philip and watch as Jenn closed the gap on me. After the slowest run in a HIM, I Finished in 6:02 for a 4th place in AG. My 3rd worse HIM time. But I saw all of my friends, my husband, who, due to an injury, power walked the entire 13.1, and of course, the only two people I know in Cuba-our AIR BnB hosts, were sitting at a cafe and yelled, "Chreeeestofer, why are jew walking?" Super.
Now this next part may surprise you:
I HIGHLY recommend this race. Here's why: I met people from all over the world. Most had only done one or two races, for several this was their first triathlon. This race took me back 10 years to when I first started this sport and everyone (well, not Debbie) but most were new to it. The days when you really couldn't just call in a half and do it for fun. More to the point, there were a ton of Cubans out there racing on crap bicycles, with (and excuse the term) shit nutrition bars made entirely of sugar, wearing lace up shoes that clearly had 300 miles on them. It reminded me of how lucky I am, and how much I take for granted. How, instead of thinking how much more I need to train for IMCanada, that I should just be grateful that that is even a choice I get to make. That I have the means, if not the wisdom, to plop down that kind of money, and travel to Canada to do it. That I'm riding a bike that costs more than most of the people in Cuba make in 6 months-for many very likely a year.
To make my point, as I was getting up from a massage table (that wasn't optional, btw) after the race, a guy from Florida approached me and introduced me to Miguel. He's in a running club in Havana and was asking if people would donate their shoes to his group. They love Nike but cannot afford them even if they can get them. I looked down at my new Nike Frees and immediately handed them to him without a second thought. He looked shocked. And then he cried thanking me profusely. I responded with heaps of De Nada, De Nada-because for me it really is nothing-but for him it meant the world. However, I did follow up with: Señor, muy importante, necessitas lavarse!
These are the reasons to race-to meet new people, see new countries, and remember to find our own reasons to get out there and race: Fast, Slow, in between. It's about people, stupid.
Go. To. Cuba. They need the cash and we need to see that world before Starbucks and Best Buy invade it.