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  • Writer's pictureKhadijah, Trigammalete

Triathlon Havana 2020 - Full Combat

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

When I went to Cuba in August of 2019 it was HOT and the mosquitoes seemed to be intensely in love with me, but for the moment I left Cuba in August I was looking forward to returning.  Triathlon Habana is my favorite race every year! For those of you who follow me you know exactly why.  For those who don’t, it’s a BIG deal in Cuba. Athletes from the surrounding countries are fit and ready to compete. The race finishes at the iconic Hotel Nacional over-looking deep blue water and the Malecon.  The race director’s also work every year to improve the race.  This year was no different.  There was a revised swim for the 70.3 and a revised bike course intended to be more secure and draw a huge crowd.  The swim was going to be a bit more challenging in my opinion because it was not only in the totally calm and secure are of the Marina and the bike while much less climbing was going to be subject to the expected high winds along the Malecon. I love to climb but being little like me and wind is not a great combination.

I arrived on Wednesday.  I wanted to take some time to acclimate, swim in the ocean and spend time with everyone before the hectic race activities started.  I was able to get unpacked ad settled in and Thursday spent the day training with Heric. Swim training was an the most beautiful little beach and then a tempo run on a grass trail.  After training was the best part. Solangel, Heric and Eduardo and I went to a local restaurant for pizza and spaghetti. I had an absolute BALL!! Heric teased me about not being able to eat an entire pizza like him.  I was tired a but felt so relaxed and happy. I fell asleep in the car on the ride home LOL!!

Thursday was an opportunity to get some training on the actual race course. Professional Triathlete and F2C Teammate, Michel Gonzalez met me with the Team he coaches and was gracious enough to have me for the day.  My heart was in zone 5C maneuvering through the Havana City streets at the start of rush hour, but we finally made it to the Malecon! One bike loop and then an easy 3-mile run.  I was already impressed with Michel as an athlete and a family man.  I was again impressed with attention he gave each athlete. Again, on Friday, the next morning for the swim course orientation he made sure each of his athletes was prepared before he went for his practice swim. Before bike check in he spent time assisting with final bike details.  I could tell his athletes respected him as a coach and a person.

Friday was exciting because everyone met at Hotel Nacional for the athlete briefings.  After the morning training I met with Antonio at the Malecon.  He looked the same except with an enormous fuzzy beard. I was smiling so hard my face hurt.  We really needed to slow down.  We are always in a rush to exchange hugs and gifts LOL!!! The funny thing is I think our favorite times are when we sit by the water and don’t talk at all.

It was so much like a reunion. I caught up with everyone.  Some felt more fit, less fit.  Some bragged about this being their first half.  I think the highlight was seeing Karolina. Karli was pregnant with her the previous year.  I had seen so many pictures. She was even cuter in person.  Happy. Chubby. Smiling and wondering about all these people. It warmed my heart to see the obvious joy that Karli and Michel have in being parents.

Saturday went quickly. I went for a short swim on the course. Returned to Maria and Gilberto’s house for breakfast and to get my bike.  Checked in the bike and then hopped a ride to drop off my run bag. I ran in to Lisset and Pablo. Lisset looked rested and happy…Pablo very handsome as usual. We quickly hugged and I returned to the Mariana to wait for Antonio and Heric to drop off their bikes. The rain and wind started again, and I was concerned about the race weather. Everyone assured me it would pass, and tomorrow would be great.  I was skeptical.

All the bikes were finally checked in. We exchanged the nervous pre-race hugs. Heric dropped me off.  I checked and rechecked my kit, batteries and nutrition for the race ate dinner then drifted off to sleep.

I woke up without an alarm. The absolute SILENCE is what woke me.  The incessant wind and rain that had been ever present the day before was gone. It was relatively cool, and the top of the palm trees were still. I smiled. The plan was to go for a sub 5:30 PB and with good weather I was going all out to get it! I put on my kit and chugged down my F2C 5:1 for breakfast and tried to think through the race in my mind. I had not practiced any transitions in over 3 months, so I wanted to be very deliberate in the transitions.  5:00 am sharp I walked over to the Marina.

Things went quickly.  I ran into Wade, Guy and Evelyn. Heric made sure my chain was oiled. We all somehow, between chatting a porta potty stops made it to the race start and we all nervously mulled around.

The Male Sprint was off! The Female Sprint was in the water. Someone said I needed to get to the line.  I was a bit confused because they were all green caps and I was blue, but I jump in anyway.  I started to feel a burning on my knee and foot! I realized I had scraped a rock on the edge of the water.  It was clear that was NOT my wave, so I swam casually to the ladder to exit.  I asked the official should I wait here, and a medic says to me, “Eso es sangre? De donde viene la sangre? Mira a tu pie.”  I had cut my toe! It didn’t hurt at all but a ton of blood.  She said you can’t go.  I said its ok.  If it hurts on the run, I will stop.  She smiled and gave me the Cubana version of the side-eye.  LOL!!

I joined the proper pack of female athletes.  We watched the male Middle distance athletes take off. I was completely amazed with the smoothness and speed of the top athletes.

Finally, the middle-distance women!!! It felt like an eternity treading water even though it was only about 90 seconds. The line is lifted, and the horn sounds and it seems like everyone takes of like a rocket!! I realize quickly the sun is going to be a problem for me, so I find the first par of feet I can get on and pray they know where they are going.  I keep telling myself don’t race!! High elbow catch. Keep your fingers together. Where is your power diamond? I felt my form fall apart as I approached the turn buoy. “Pull it back together Khadijah” It went smoothly because there was only one other athlete next to me. I decided to site on the marina fuel station. Once I got into the canal just used the wall until I knew I was close.  I was able to focus on form and keeping my heart rate down.  I exited the water a full 6 minutes faster than 2019 and the distance was 150 yards further. 

I couldn’t tell where I was counting bikes so decided to race my plan and see how hard I wanted to push when I got to the Malecon.  I felt good!!! I felt powerful and the hills……they weren’t effortless, but I was going! I passed 2 women on the 10-mile ride to the Malecon.  I took my water bottle out of the cage and held it as I rode through the tunnel.  EVERY year I lose my water there…..not today Satan LOL!! I could see Ileana from Cuba as I approached the Malecon.  This was encouraging because she is a STRONG cyclist.  I also saw Isabel fly by! She had already completed and ENTIRE loop!!! I was like wow!! How many other women are already that far?  I turned onto the Malecon ready to put in work. The wind heading west was brutal.  I could feel the sting on my face from the ocean spray.  It was so still at the Marina and the ride over the wind on the Malecon was a complete shock to me. I was a bit frustrated, but Dawn was definitely in my head! I started thinking about Sweetwater and how determined she was to finish just one more Tri.  I wasn’t wasting this opportunity.  I checked my body position, form and my attitude. I stayed steady heading west and pushed for all I was worth heading east hitting speeds in excess of 30 mph.  I got an uber reality check when Michel Gonzalez passed me heading west. I was pushing 19 mph into a fierce headwind and he made me feel like I was standing still. Smooth powerful pedal stroke! That's why he's a Pro. After lap one I was able to pass Ileana and realized the only woman ahead of me was Isabel. I was able to pass Isabel and play tag on lap 5 but she was a full lap ahead of me, so I was on my own for the last lap.

My transition was SLOPPY. I didn’t pay attention on approach and only had one foot out. My intention was to slide out of my cleat AND socks. I just took the “L” instead of rushing and falling.  I stopped completely pulled my left foot out and then took my sock off. At that point I was worried! My ENTIRE sock was covered in blood.  It didn’t hurt so I thought maybe just the combination of being wet and my heart rate being out the roof…..  I changed right next to my bag.  Skirt. Dry Socks. Why do you have so many socks in here???? Just get a left and a right and go even if they don’t match. Antonio was at the transition gate. “Come on K!”  He was probably wondering what all my fumbling was about. I grabbed my go items, visor, shade and Electrodurance and I was off and running. 

I was a bit tight, but I felt OK.  The run was uneventful.  Each lap the women seemed to be encouraging each other. “Tu ves fuerte! Vamos! Solamente 2 vuelta mas!!” I loved it. Then the third lap.  My toe and knee for some crazy reason started to burn!!! Then my toe got its own heartbeat as I approached lap 4!!! The smile on my face was gone and I was ALL business.  It was heating up big time and I was in PAIN.  I just looked at the road and ran.  Even after the last turn around I never looked up until I could hear the music at the finish line.  I looked up and could see the Cuba sign and the turn to head up the hill to the finish.  I had imagined during my training sprinting up that hill, maybe battling with another athlete.  It didn’t quite go like that LOL!! I actually stumbled at bit. I pulled my shades and my visor off and started to giggle.  I knew had a great race and I had SO MUCH fun.  I didn’t even realize how well I had done until someone said you are the second female OVERALL.  I was confused at first.

Refreshments this way and if you need to see a medic…….”Me duele mi pie.”  They took off my shoe and it wasn’t cute but after cleaning it off It was clear that the cut was deep but small.  The medic who told me not to go at the start of the day gave me an I told you so and then smiled.  After checking why my knee was burning, I evidently scraped some type of sea porcupine.  I pulled 6 tiny needles out of my leg and the pain started to subside.  I felt like I had been in actual battle LOL!!

Evelyn helped me get all my things situated and then I sat the rest of the day and enjoyed the breeze, the awards ceremony.  I was super excited for Wade.  He earned second in his age group and he seemed thrilled.  He had a GREAT run.  Every time I saw him, he was zipping by with a smile FULLY covered in in sunscreen.

Antonio is a family man now. He calls them his Team. He left to get his Mom home and then head to his girlfriend and her daughter. Solangel and Heric got me to a cab and I was headed back to Jaimanitas. I was leaving the next day.  I packed Tranquilo, washed and hung my race clothes, ate and then just sat and watched white caps until the sun went down.

It was an amazing day. I pray I can race like that again. Even if I can’t I pray I never forget that feeling of not being afraid to completely just let go. I love triathlon. I love Cuba. I am so grateful for all my family and friends.

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