24 and 25 February 2018 is the 4th annual Havana Triathlon. If you are still looking for a way to get to Cuba, this could be it. Here are my tips to prepare based on my participation in 2017…
Cuba was my second Sprint Triathlon. But while I am far from a professional (or even competitive athlete) I have participated in enough half marathons and 10ks to recognize the Havana race is different. And it became readily apparent that “Cuban time” is a rare combination of both “island time” and “communist time”…
Bottom line – come to have fun…don’t come hoping for your Personnel Record (PR).
As standard, check in was the day prior. The Hemingway Pier while still technically in downtown Havana, it is 12-15km from the city center (tourist part of the city). I would still recommend staying in the city center and either taking a cab (or biking) to the Pier. Check in was easy and uneventful. The pre-race briefing was NOT.
There was confusion about both the pre-race briefing time (the signs, internet and what we were told did not match) and the location. It turns out it was none of the above because it ended up starting over an hour late due to technical difficulties. It was also about ¾ of a mile from the race check-in on the other side of the pier. Lesson learned #1: Ask questions and be flexible. And it turns out nothing critical was briefed anyway. I’ll probably skip it next time.
When you check in, you are also required to check in your bike and your run bag. I didn’t check in my bike until the morning of the race and I am such a novice I didn’t need a separate run and bike bag. Lesson learned #2: It was fine and the rules were more of guidelines. My bike was rented so I probably won’t leave it overnight next time either.
The website scared me with guidelines of “maximum” race times. While it did help me take my training slightly more seriously (only slightly), it turns out this was not accurate. There was a half ironman race at the same time, so it didn’t matter that I was at the bottom of the heap. I still had plenty of company and nobody really noticed. Lesson learned #3: Don’t worry about it. Have fun and take your time to enjoy the experience.
There was a lot of confusion at the start of the race about where to begin. There was not enough signage and those working the race didn’t know. In my case, following the crowd didn’t even work out and I ended up walking a 1 1/2 miles before the start of the race. Even if I had found the start right away, it was a good ½ mile walk from the road. Lesson learned #4: Get there early and wear swim shoes or flip flops for the walk.
The start of the swim is actually 50 meters from where you get into the water. If you are not a strong swimmer, when training, plan for the extra 50 meters. It is also a short run from the end of the swim to the bike transition area. Lesson learned #5: Train a little extra in the swim and run so you have some extra energy for the transitions.
The water was smooth and straight (in the piers not the open water). The roads were in good shape. There had a good and effective plan for traffic and even at the back of the pack, I was never concerned. There were only a few small hills for the bike and the run was completely flat. Lesson learned #6: This was a great race for a beginner and lots of the participants were there for a destination weekend so it didn’t feel overly competitive. The race had a great spirit and vibe.
Lesson learned #7 – Lots of the participants from the United States flew on Jet Blue. They had great prices and flying their bikes was relatively cheap and painless. I rented my bike in town from Ciclo Cuba and would do that again. Plan on extra spending money from getting to and from Hemingway Pier and/or the race finish. The swim bags weren’t delivered and ready until after 1130 am. Because I wasn’t going for a PR, I regretted sending a swim bag “ahead” with the race crew and next time I will just carry it on the bike ride.
Bottom line: Be flexible. Bring sense of humor.
P.S. A special thanks to both Latarsha and to the Australian guy whose name I don’t know. Both were a wonderful help as I asked stupid questions!