Racing in Cuba – What to Expect

I honestly don’t know what to expect when I think about traveling to, racing in and simply just being in Cuba. The whole trip doesn’t seem real. I started planning this adventure with a simple idea – to get my family to Cuba – and somehow it turned into reality. The problem is, I didn’t think about what I would do if I actually made this little dream come true so, now what?

Of course there has been plenty of advice and opinion given where traveling to Cuba is concerned. I have heard everything from not being able to take pictures of Cubans and brining your own soap to how welcoming they are to Americans and how we’re not, by far, the first tourists to visit there, because Canada. The issue is, we are not tourists. And, no matter how Cuban I look, I still cannot speak the language. #Shame


As an American, you absolutely need a visa and a good reason to travel there. I have two because you know I’m an overachiever. I am both going there as an athlete to participate in the Havana Triathlon (read: flood the economy with money) and as a journalist to write a story about the event for USATriathlon Magazine. I am also going there to drink rum but I don’t think that is a legit reason.

Working with a travel agent is highly recommended. We are using the one provided by the race, Miramar Travel, and they have been exceptional. Through our contacts there, we were able to rent a house to accommodate all of us (we are 10 total!), get our visas, airline tickets, my bike shipment permit, transportation to and from the airport and a designated vehicle for our transportation use once we get there.


The peso is one is one of two official currencies in use in Cuba, the other being the convertible peso or CUC. The Euro is widely accepted there and easy enough for us to get prior to our trip. What won’t be accepted is basically anything American in terms of banking or money. Most credit cards associated with American banks will not be accepted there. I’m sure this is something that will change over time but, right now, it’s kind of a cash…um, Euro only country for Americans.


Although this is not my first time racing outside of the U.S., I’ve already learned that going to Cuba for a triathlon is probably going to be nothing like racing a duathlon in Spain, that was sponsored by USATriathlon.

The Havana Triathlon is in it’s infancy, 2017 being only the third year it will be held and the first year with more American atheltes. Let’s just say there were a lot of “WTF” moments as I went though the athlete information guide.


I was definitely worried about this being my first ocean swim, but after seeing where we will be swimming, I think that was wasted energy. You see, Cuba is a huge fishing mecca for obvious reasons, with one of it’s most famous fisherman being Ernest Hemingway. In order to make fishing and the enormously popular fishing events held in Cuba more accommodating and accessible, three channels were built just inside the bay of the Atlantic. It is in these channels, an area named “Marina Hemingway” that we will be swimming the half-mile required in the race.

It almost looks like gigantic swim lanes! There was also this warning:


“A capsized yacht in Channel 1 might cause the swim start to be moved to Channel 2. The swim distance will remain the same. Please be alert to any changes.”

Is this a frequent occurrence? And, just how big are these channels? Yikes.


The most challenging part of the bike will most likely be me packing it and unpacking it. I have to say that I’m a little frightened about packing up my very expensive triathlon bike and putting it on a plane.

The bike course seems flat, fast and picturesque. I actually hope I take the time on the bike to take in my surroundings. I go into a race like this thinking about the ocean views but, when I’m actually racing all I think about is focusing on the task at hand.

The neon green line is the bike route. Other than “T1” I haven’t a clue what this map says.


Still my favorite part of any triathlon and, the most challenging part of this run will definitely be the heat. I’ve been doing my best to simulate the expected 80 degree temps while running and riding in my basement but I know I’m going to feel the effects no matter what I do…short of running in a sauna.

At least I will have a nice view.


Here’s where it gets weird.

Normally you set up one transition area with all the gear you will need, including your bike. In the Havana Triathlon the first and second transition areas are separated and therefore, so is your gear.

They actually give you three separate bags to place your stuff in…


My coach, who will be doing an Ironman in New Zealand while I’m in Cuba by the way, had this advice:

  1. If it looks like rain and you want your gear to remain dry, double-bag it by putting your gear in an extra garbage bag and locating the opening strategically.
  2. Do NOT tie knots. Your hands don’t work strings well when you get out of the water – so do secure the bag, but don’t tie knots or leave it where someone who picks it up will inadvertently turn your nice string into a knot.
  3. Include a water bottle in T1 bag – to drink if you need, to rinse feet if you need

This should be very interesting…


This is also a first. Check out my sweet race shirt:

Apparently Cubans take racing very seriously…collared shirt seriously.

And, if I really do get two medals for some reason, my kids will be ecstatic!


When all is said and done, I just hope I can locate my family at the finish. The race is such a small part of the trip as a whole but, obviously I will be ready to go, no matter what the day brings. Even a capsized boat in my swim lane.


Where is the most interesting place you have traveled or raced?

What are some weird customs or observations you’ve had when traveling outside the U.S.?

What is the worst racing shirt you ever received?




Skip to comment form

  1. That sounds like a lot of fun. I’ve never run a race overseas but I have run several in various parts of the countries. The collard shirt does sound awesome.
    Hollie recently posted…Love YourselfMy Profile

  2. That is one fancy race shirt! And 2 medals? A twin mama’s dream! Regardless of how the race goes, I’m sure you will have a million stories and I can’t wait to hear all of them!
    Angela @ happy fit mama recently posted…What I’m Loving LatelyMy Profile

  3. Love that you may get a collared shirt – though I don’t know if I would wear it? But still, very cool! Can’t wait to hear how the race goes. Sounds like an adventure already!

    1. I think I may have to just put it in a shadow box or something:-)

  4. Worst shirt I’ve ever gotten was the Marine Corps Marathon Mock neck. It is an awkward weight, the worst possible fit (baggy up top and then very tight around the waist), a mock turtleneck with no ventilation. And steel grey. It was my first marathon, but I still have never worn the damn thing and I think I finally gave it away!
    Susie @ Suzlyfe recently posted…How to Continue Your Running Education (+ Giveaway!)My Profile

    1. OMG mock neck for the win! That sounds awful. I have amassed quite a few in my pile. Not sure what to do with them all yet…

    • Anna on February 15, 2017 at 7:44 AM
    • Reply

    They are showing you the two different kinds of medals, each for a different distance raced….

    1. Thank God for you! LOL!!! Did not even notice that!

  5. I absolutely cannot wait to read about your entire experience – racing and visiting! AJ and I are thinking about going to Cuba in December so basically, your experience will be the deciding factor. No pressure!
    Danielle @ The T-Rex Runner recently posted…The Race that Came Out of Nowhere – Green Valley 10 Miler Race ReportMy Profile

    1. Perfect! And did you see how my coach is doing an IM in New Zealand in a few weeks? #parallellives

  6. So excited for you!! I think all that transitioning is part of what I find so intimidating about the triathlon (and having to ride a bike and swim)….But it looks like those channels are pretty narrow, so maybe it’s sort of like doing a lap swim in a pool…. haha, I’m sure much harder than that…. I can’t wait to see how it goes, and also just to see how your whole Cuba trip is! recently posted…Head FirstMy Profile

    1. The transitions are usually WAY less complicated! You are going to rock that tri – pink basket and all!!

    • Suzy on February 15, 2017 at 11:32 AM
    • Reply

    The race seems so organized! You’re going to have a blast. I hope you guys get onto that border patrol show. That would be cool. And if you get on it, I hope you tell them that you’re going over there to drink rum.

    I think you know this, but I’ve been to Haiti. I went there in 1996. THAT was an unreal experience. The country was flooded with UN soldiers carrying around automatic weapons, and when we traveled by car, we had to sit in the back of a caged truck while people threw rocks at us. And yet still, whenever Canadians travel anywhere, we make sure we attach a Canadian flag patch to our backpacks because Canadians are treated better while abroad. Sigh….
    Suzy recently posted…OverboardMy Profile

    1. OMG what!?!? I did not know any of that! Holy crap woman!
      My stepmom has tons of Canadian relatives who go to Cuba regularly so they’ve been giving us some tips!!

    • Ana on February 15, 2017 at 12:27 PM
    • Reply

    Drinking Rum should absolutely be an acceptable reason for traveling to Cuba!!

    You are going to rock this tri!

    This race sounds amazing! and that is one intense shirt! but it oddly makes perfect sense to me!

    My fiancé traveled to Cuba a few years ago, and he always says that the best advice he can give others traveling there is 1. bring toilet paper and 2. bring stomach meds.
    Ana recently posted…Love Run 2 Mile run RecapMy Profile

    1. Haha yes! We are bringing both…just in case! Thank you:-)

  7. I can’t believe (well I can) that they don’t accept any kind of American currency! I respect that though. I wouldn’t want to either considering the current climate 🙂 Your coach gave good advice…I can’t imagine opening knots should be your worry when transitioning! I am excited for you (all 10 of you!) and kudos to you for making it all happen AND running a triathlon on top of it all!
    Nellie recently posted…3 Ways Wireless Bluetooth Headphones Will Change Your Fitness LifeMy Profile

    1. Exactly! And thank you so much Nellie!! I really appreciate that 🙂 xoxo

  8. Everything about this is going to be so fascinating! That 3 bag system is a bit overwhelming but I have no doubt you’ll be organized and ready race morning. Looking forward to following along and reading all the details!
    Laura recently posted…A Utah marathon? Plus giveaway!My Profile

    1. It feeds right into my type A doesn’t it? Haha! Thanks so much Laura!

    2. It feeds right into my Type A right? Thanks so much Laura!

  9. The whole race will be quite an experience! Although hopefully not an experience involving a cap-sized yacht…yikes! I’m really excited to read about your experience and see all of the photos.
    I never did a race when I studied abroad, but running was different in Germany than in the US. If I didn’t want to run on cobblestone (ouch), it was dirt trails shared with people doing Nordic walking. The Germans love Nordic walking!
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted…How Base Phase Training Can Help You Run FasterMy Profile

    1. Of course they do! Sounds like a very cool experience. I always love running in other countries and seeing what (and how) they do things differently. In Italy everyone out running seemed SO overdressed for the weather and also stuck in the 80s with their wardrobes, which is weird since Italians are known for their fashion sense…not the runners!

  10. Gah! So excited for you! Please make sure you take in the scenery…I know you get in a zone, but do it!! That shirt is hilarious, very prim and proper, it needs one of the straw hats to go with it 🙂

  11. A capsized yacht?! I’d have the same questions…

    I can’t wait to see how this goes. Also, please post food pics.

    Do you have a Global Entry card? 100% worth the $100 to get it.
    Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table recently posted…Seeing Red on Valentine’s Day [WIAW]My Profile

    1. UGH! Wish I knew about the global entry card like two years ago!! I need one but it takes a several weeks to get. Thanks for the tip though!

  12. Oh my stars this is giving me all the feels. So excited for you, clearly this will be a monumental experience on SOOOOO many levels. So many. Wow!
    Okay, now i can’t stop laughing but are you biking right into a Male Habenero??? spicy, nice!!! that’s awesome. and the collared shirt is epic, i love the formality… 😀 at least they spelled triathlon correctly, ha! i’ve seen some things that made me cringe and i aint no english major but i did get me some sort of an edjakation 😉
    i’m looking forward to reading about the adventure, it will be phenomenal.
    danielle recently posted…WIR sleep less play moreMy Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

CommentLuv badge

%d bloggers like this: