The trip to bring my dad to his childhood home in Cuba began with my plan to race and write about the Havana Triathlon. Everything about the trip was made possible because a friend told me about the race and I saw it as way to get our American family to the place of my dad’s birth and to relive a time I had only heard about, with my dad.
Although the race was mostly an excuse to go to Cuba, I trained for it and visualized every step of the swim, bike and run. I especially thought about racing toward the finish and seeing my entire family – – husband, sons, father, stepmother, brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew – – cheering me on. And, of course, celebrating with Havana Club rum drinks afterward.
It wasn’t meant to be and, if anything were to go wrong on this trip, I’m thankful it was the race. A lot of good came from it, as you will see.
I’m going to change the layout of the rundown for the purposes of telling the whole story leading up to the race. I’m sure you won’t mind…
Wednesday, February 22 – Arrive in Cuba!
We landed safely in Havana, Cuba! Of course I was most worried about my bike which I packed up and put on a plane for the first time ever! I have always used a shipping company to transport my bike with tender loving care but, for some reason (because I live in America), they did not offer this service in Cuba.
In case anyone else has this bright idea, it cost $100 to put the monstrosity on the plane and $200 Euro to get it back to America. Will this bike ever stop costing me money?
Despite my worry, my bike rolled into the Havana airport baggage claim area unharmed, as did several others, to equally anxious athletes!
The bigger problem was trying to fit it and all our luggage into this “taxi.” Somehow, we did it!
Friday, February 24 – Day Before Race Day!
When I woke up on Friday morning and headed straight for the bathroom I suddenly saw the room tilt and shift so severely, I had to grab onto the sink to keep from falling over. It wasn’t even close to the dizziness you get by standing up too fast and no, I was not hungover either. It scared me and I took a second to focus. Two more smaller dizzy spells happened that morning, but not as bad as the first. I brushed it off as being on the plane coupled with the congestion I had for several weeks. This is what we call “foreshadowing.”
Since we only had one mode of transportation for our entire group, we all went to the race site for my packet pick-up, practice swim and ride. It was so great having everyone with me (although I’m sure they didn’t think so after three hours) but I usually do it alone and I loved that my kids got a sort of “behind the scenes” look. Although, all they really cared about were the coconuts.
If you remember from my previous post, we were doing the swim in oversized channels, dredged in the 19060s for sport fishing. The channels were lined with boats (all of them upright, thank god!) but the water looked pretty gross in one channel in particular so I was praying the swim was in a different one. And yes, I realize just because garbage and debris was only in that one channel didn’t mean the others were any less disgusting.
After several attempts to find the practice swim site, I noticed someone in a swimsuit walking like she had a purpose so I followed her and finally found it!
I strapped on my goggles, had a quick chat with two other Americans who were just exiting the water and was told only that “it smells pretty bad in the final stretch here but overall, it’s fine.” And with that, I dove in.
I swam a little way and, not wanting to hold up the family too long, exited, toweled off and gathered my stuff for packet pick-up. At least we knew where that was!
Once again, I was saved by my dad translating for me. Almost no one at registration spoke English and I had to sign my life away to race. I was given my three bags – – one for the bike transition, one for the run and one for after the race – – and told to go to “medical.” What?
Yep. I had to have my temperature taken and was asked a myriad of questions concerning my health. There was a little confusion when the woman asked “is she is student?” and my dad replied “no, she’s a writer,” and, because she looked utterly confused, he said “writer” in four different ways in Spanish before just saying “yes, she’s a student.” I guess they don’t consider “writing” a job in Cuba!
We headed off to find transition, which was just being set up, and were able to get in and out without much fanfare. I also found out the finish line would be at the American Embassy! How perfect.
See those two bags on the front of my bike? The white one had all my bike gear and the yellow had my running shoes, bib number and belt and my pink TrailRunner hat that I wear at most races. The yellow bag would be brought to the run transition which was near the finish at the embassy. At this point, I was just hoping it would be there when I needed it. Little did I know, I would never see it again.
Saturday, February 25 – Race Day!
When I laid down at 9:30pm on Friday night, I had the same dizziness. I told my husband about it but we both figured it was the cold I had been battling for so long and residual head congestion from the flight.
When I woke up at 5am on race morning I immediately knew something was really wrong. I felt sick to my stomach and, when I tried to sit up the whole room moved in a way I hadn’t seen since taking drugs in college, only this wasn’t fun it was terrifying.
I stumbled to the bathroom and tried to look at my face in the mirror and I just couldn’t focus. Stubborn and stupid as I am, I very slowly dressed (by sitting on the floor) in my race kit and visor and then, exhausted and scared shitless, I woke up my husband, crying and asking him to help me. Begging really.
He woke up and walked me down the stairs to where my brother was waiting. My brother had wanted to come with me to take some pictures and see the race start and, when I saw him, I started crying more because I wanted so badly to have that experience with him.
I sat in one of the outdoor chairs basically just trying not to vomit and panicking about what was wrong, how I could possibly race and, if I didn’t how I would write the article I had promised. Since my husband knows me so well he immediately shut it down and told me to just focus on feeling good and to forget the race and article.
I tried to eat.
I tried to take Dramamine.
Jesús showed up to drive me and I cried again.
My wave went off at 7:08 and by 6:30 (I was supposed to leave at 6:00) I finally gave in and had my husband walk me back upstairs.
I was devastated.
And then I was freaking out about my bike in transition!
I sent my husband and my dad with my passport and my race bracelet to the start of the race and told them to beg the officials to give them my bike. I knew how serious it was to hand over a very expensive bike, in a different country, to anyone one but the athlete but I couldn’t barely pick my head up at that point and I was desperate.
Of course our fearless leader Jesús drove them and after a lot of talking, passport, bike and personal photographing they were allowed to take my bike and bag.
My husband took the saddest picture ever of my lone bike in the transition area.
Monday – Tuesday, February 27 and 28th – Slow Recovery
I was very dizzy and nauseous for the rest of the day on Saturday (but still headed out to Havana after sleeping for a few hours) and had to literally hang onto my husband as we walked to keep from falling over. As proof of my desperation, I actually drank a soda to help my stomach and headache because I definitely could not have coffee. I haven’t had a can of coke in probably 20 years. I was not happy about it, but it worked.
For whatever reason, my stepmom brought ear drops so I started putting them in three times a day and, after about 24 hours, it seemed to help. Day by day the world started righting itself, I could walk without assistance and I was only really seeing the room shift when I laid down at night and woke up in the morning.
My husband felt so sorry for me the day of the race that he promised to run with me as soon as I felt better. I cannot tell you how happy that made me! He has run with me exactly once and it was when we were dating. The only problem was I had to leave my running shoes in the other transition area. Once again, my stepmom to the rescue! She had brought two pair of running shoes (no, she doesn’t run unfortunately) and lent me her Sauconys. They felt like pillows and I was never so happy to be running!
And I had someone to take my pictures! #DreamComeTrue
I also got to bike down the famous Malecón and finally get to ride by the American Embassy. It was only 20 minutes but it’s a 20 minute bike ride I will never forget.
Riding by the American Embassy! No words.
Thursday, March 2 – Diagnosis
By the time I came home, I had almost no symptoms. I still had the congestion, which I now knew was probably a raging sinus infection since it had been going on since before Hawaii. I didn’t go to the doctor because 9 times out of 10 they tell me the cold has to “run it’s course” and send me away with nothing.
I went to my doctor on Thursday afternoon to tell him the whole story. He seems to think that swimming had nothing to do with the vertigo and that, yes I have a raging sinus infection and it attacked the little endings inside my ear (medical term) that tell my brain which way is up, down, sideways, etc. and that it was just horrible timing. I find that very hard to believe but he insisted that unless I went deep diving, it would not have caused the vertigo and the ear drops had a placebo effect and didn’t actually do anything.
I’m going to test that theory in the pool and see what happens. #LifeguardWarning
Regardless of luck or water logged induced vertigo, I’m glad it’s gone and I’m finally on antibiotics treating the infection.
Friday, March 3 – Race Results
While we were still in Cuba, one of the women my brother works with emailed him to congratulate me. She said she had looked up my race results and saw I won my age group. I dismissed it thinking she probably just Googled my name with triathlon and various results popped up, one of which had me winning my age group.
Then my brother emailed me this:
Apparently I won my age group by a wide margin and I think that finish time is close to a PR. Maybe I did race it? The Cubans will never know…
And, because I know you’re worried, I’m still writing the article for USATriathlon as they think the story is even more compelling.
All that worry for nothing.
[Tweet “The #HavanaTriathlon was a beautiful distaster for this #American #athelte”]
Have you ever had vertigo?
Nurses – please weigh in with your thoughts. I have never experienced vertigo in my life and I truly hope to never again.
Have you ever been listed in results for a race you DNS?
(((nothing but jawdrops over here)))
Ive never experienced vertigo but can say Im pretty damn sure Id never make it off the hotel room floor out of terror.
Im so impressed by you.
Thank you so much Carla and, obviously I LOVED your post today!
Holy shit Allie!!!! That sounds like a nightmare! I’ve never had vertigo but I have heard it’s the worst thing ever. I’m so sorry you didn’t get to race. I know how much you wanted it. But great job on your stellar finish! Despite vertigo, you still find a way to raise me up! Lol!!!
Of course! I will always find a way Angela!! And yes, holy shit indeed. Ugh.
Holy moly, I am so sorry to hear this. I am glad you are feeling better and made the best of the situation but I honestly cannot even imagine.
Thanks Hollie. It was truly horrifying but I’m glad it was me and not my kids!
I think Angela said it best: HOLY SHIT.
Whoa. Like, where do you even go from there? (from the Holy shit, not from the trip). I am so sorry that you didn’t get to do the race, but I am very very happy that you are ok and that you still got to live out many of your dreams and goals for when you were there. And you definitely won your age group….
Ha ha – I EARNED that win!! And yes, nothing much more to say than what Angela expressed so perfectly. Thanks Susie!
You should have called me! Except I would not have told you anything you would have wanted to hear. I agree with the sinus infection diagnosis, and yes it can affect the little fibers in your inner ear, throwing off your equilibrium. Probably the flight to Cuba sealed the deal for you. The good news is that your symptoms are gone. There are other causes for vertigo, and none of them are an easy fix.
I’m so sorry this happened to you! I can only imagine the disappointment you feel, even though you’re putting a positive spin on it. I’m glad you got your bike back. I pretty much had a panic attack reading this, so if you didn’t have one, you’re welcome!
I seriously almost did call you!!! I’m not even joking! If it had gotten worse instead of better, I was finding you! And yes, the flight to Cuba and, don’t forget about the flight to and from Hawaii just 2 weeks before when I first had the infection. It was a perfect storm and it hit on exactly the wrong day.
I had a complete panic attack over the entire thing, including my beloved bike of course, so we’re even 🙂 Thanks so much Wendy and, knowing I could have called you truly helped me!!
I am so so sorry you felt so horrible for such a large portion of the trip. I imagine those symptoms were very scary since they aren’t the common cold or flu symptoms. I’m grateful it cleared up a bit for you and that you are in the mend. What a story it all makes! Wow! And I guess congratulations are in order for your mysterious win?!? LOL
It was so scary but just glad it was me and not one of my kids, which I know you understand now 🙂 Thanks so much Jes!
This was like reading a very suspenseful novel with my heart racing and then when I read the part that you missed your wave I got teary-eyed…. Soooo bummed for you!! I don’t know what your vertigo was from, but a sinus infection is definitely possible. I can’t believe that they listed your name in first place… that is just crazy!!! I’m sure you will still write a more than fantastic piece and I can’t wait to read it when you do!
Aw, thank you so much Paria! The whole thing was so crazy and I hope I can do it justice with my article 🙂
The physio office I worked in had a physiotherapist who specialized in treating people with vertigo so I got to experience first-hand how much it can adversely affect people’s lives! It’s a very frustrating issue. I am so sorry that you had to deal with it, especially being far away from home and on your race day. UGHHHH. Damn. I’m so sorry.
Thank you Suzy! I have a friend who suffers from vertigo all the time and now I have a whole new respect for her. It’s awful and I’m so glad it’s gone…let’s hope it stays that way!
Like Angela and Susie said: holy shit! I am so sorry to hear that you were sick for so much of your trip! Vertigo is scary, especially when in a foreign country. I am so glad to hear at least that you are on antibiotics and feeling better. My mom had the same thing happen two days before I ran CIM – vertigo, fainting, nausea, etc. – and it was scary. Turned out it was a problem with the little things in the inner ear. The otoconia (I think that’s the technical term) get out of place and can cause orientation problems and lead to vertigo and nausea. It’s creepy how much the ear can affect everything. At least you had an unexplained AG win!(?) Take care and keep recovering well!!
OMG I cannot believe your poor mom had the same thing so close to your race! That must have been scary for you because I know my family was pretty scared.
I am definitely recovering and did a pretty brutal swim today with zero side effects. It felt SO good!
Omg. I didn’t know what to expect when you said drama. But WOW! I am so so sorry. I know making that call is the worst thing for a competitor. Way to be smart and not drown in a dirty Cuban channel.
But hey… congrats on the win! Lmao!
At least it was kind of made for me. I’ve raced when I’ve been sick or injured but I literally couldn’t stand up without help so I guess it was “good” that is was so bad…at least for the competitor side of me. And yes, I was slightly relived I didn’t have to do the garbage swim.
Oh Allie! So happy you are feeling now but wow! That must have been such a tough disappointment. Even though you did not get to race I am still so happy you were able to be in Cuba with your family as I know how very important that was for you to be able to do. So many hugs sweet friend!
Exactly. Thank you so much Sandra. I know you understand what I felt like but I’m just so glad it wasn’t a huge goal race (like Nationals) and that we had a much bigger purpose for being there. But, you know I was still SO upset. This will only make me stronger, right? xoxo
so I read this in transit this morning but omg! Allie! To be honest I was freaking OUT that whole Saturday–stalking your social media to see how you did! I was so nervous but when you posted that you and the family was fine I figured you had a story to tell!
I am not shocked at all that you were still lacing up despite the entire room shifting! That must have been SO scary. I can’t even imagine. I am happy that hubby was able to get your bike back–seeing it there by itself was truly heartbreaking. What an insane time for this to happen but we all know there are really no coincidences…right?
Happy to hear that you had such an awesome experience (despite the dns) also the pictures of you running and biking are just gorgeous.
p.s. I once lost my bib on public transportation and was given a replacement–but the bib that I lost somehow found its way onto the course and ran a faster race than I ever would LOL
Thank you SO MUCH Nellie and I’m laughing about how your bib ran a faster race – OMG!!!
OH MY GOSH. So first of all, I’m with you – my #1 concern would have been about the article and not letting my client down. I would have been impossibly stressed out by that (and actually was really stressed on your behalf until I got to the end of this post and saw you’re still writing it), so thank goodness that worked out! Second – I am so sorry that you did not end up being able to race and have the experience you were hoping for. It sucks that it is under such insane circumstances, too! But now you have a reason to go back, and you still got to make some great memories with your family. I can’t wait to hear more about your trip and I hope you are feeling SO much better!
I know you totally get the work commitment anxiety so THANK YOU!!! I was totally stressed the whole time! And yes, I totally have a good reason to back (everyone wants to!) and, like I said, if there was anything that got screwed up I’m glad it was my race because my dad deserved a perfect experience…and he got it!
Wait!! what happened to your bag? was it stolen? Did I miss that? I’m glad you found your bike… and yes, that is a sad picture of your bike all on it’s lonesome…
I really don’t even know what to say, if you were telling me this in person, I would just listen and keep pouring the rum / wine. You went to Cuba and got to see place with your dad, even if you were sick, I’m sure it was still an awesome experience!
I get vertigo once a year… randomly, out of nowhere. It’s exactly like you described, you get up and everything around the room wont’ stop spinning. I think my ears are (and have been) unbalanced for a long time, I can’t even do a carousel without feeling like I’m going to die.
There were two separate transition areas and my “run” bag was in another location so I didn’t make my husband and dad chase that down too. The most important thing was the bike!
And I definitely self-medicated with Cuban rum but your ear would have been extra nice so thank you!!
And OMG I seriously am living in fear of having it happen again. How truly awful for you! A carousel would be pure torture. So sorry – that is awful. #morerum
Oh my goodness that is one crazy race morning! I’m so sorry you had to miss your race, but now that you’re all better I guess you at least have a crazy race story? 🙂
That’s what I have been telling myself. I’m also glad it wasn’t a big goal race. I was truly just doing it for the experience and, there’s always next year…
So sorry to hear about the vertigo – that’s gotta be so scary, especially being outside the United States when it happened! It’s not my area of expertise, but sounds like you had the perfect storm that hit you at the worst time. I hope you’re feeling better now!
Glad you were able to get out and run and ride once you were feeling a little bit better – and hope you enjoyed that Coke haha
I think that is exactly what happened. Ridiculously bad luck!!
And I really did love that Coke because it made me feel SO much better. Thanks Susan!
I read your blog all the time 😉
I am a vestibular physical therapist. It sounds like you had a case of vestibular neuritis. The brain typically makes adaptations and dizziness improves with time. Some people seek out vestibular PT for exercises – quick head movements while fixing their eyes and balance exercises with their eyes closed,
Are you still having daily episodes of spinning” with activities such as rolling over in bed or bending over, getting into/out of bed? If yes – this could be positional vertigo that can be resolved with 1-2 PT treatments for a quick correction.
If you are still feeling off or having sensation of movement- get checked by vestibular PT. Look up PT in your area on VEDA website.
Feel free to email questions email@example.com
Mary – thank you so much for this. Luckily, all of the spinning subsided and was completely gone by the time I came home. I have been doing regular workouts, including long/hard swims and I have had zero dizziness so I’m very thankful for that.
I so appreciate this and thanks for your email as well!
My DearSweet Alice,
What a trip! Sorry to hear about your bout with vertigo. My mother suffered from the effects for almost 2 months. It is VERY real. We found her 4 point cane when we were cleaning out their house (they moved to SC). She almost cried at the memories of the vertigo days because it was so debilitating. I do hope you are feeling better! And I’m glad to hear you were able to enjoy the time with your family in your Dad’s homeland.
T!!! Thank you so much! And I cannot believe that about Joanie but I can see why it affected her so much – – it is God awful!! I cannot even imagine going though it for a solid week, let alone two months!
I’m feeling about 90% better and ready to celebrate our birthdays!!!! 🙂 Thanks love!! xoxo
What crazy timing! I know nothing about vertigo and have never experienced it either. I’m glad that’s all it was! And thankfully it does sound like everything worked out okay. What an adventure!
It was certainly an adventure and thanks Laura! Everything definitely worked out fine in the end and we all came back healthy!!
holy holy holy moly and holy hell, that sounds so….. crazy?! i’m sorry but the trip otherwise looked amazing. seriously i’ve never had vertigo,but i’ve certainly had an event that i massively trained for go upside down. yikes that is pretty nuts though, maybe it was all the travel? who knows!!!! i’m defintely not familiar with vertigo but my godmother has it and used to get really sick when we went hiking, or that’s why she never came with us lol.
geez i’m glad you’re ok and were surrounded by family… certainly a memorable trip!
Thanks so much and yes, I’m just so glad to be better!!
I am so sorry to hear this! I’m a long time reader, first time commenting. I’ve had vertigo on about three occasions and I wouldn’t want to wish that upon anyone. It’s my worst fear to have it before some event/race. Typically with me, the dizziness and throwing up lasts for one day and the next day is spent recuperating. The first time I had it, I got tested for several things and nothing was found. So, now I carry travel sickness medicine everywhere I go…I use Meclizine. I kind of know what the symptoms are for me so I’m better prepared.
I’m just glad you’re okay and your trip was still wonderful. What an experience it must have been.
Thank you so much for reading and commenting! It sounds like you know exactly what I am talking about and I’m sorry for that. Thanks for the name of a medicine so I can find it and travel with it from now on. So happy to be home and recovered and hope to never experience it again!
Oh Allie – I’m so sorry you weren’t able to race. But since I am behind on reading your posts, I know there is much more Cuba to come, and I know that experiencing the country with your dad and your family was the most important part of your trip.
Sounds like vertigo to me; my mom has had it and she says it’s horrible.
It was definitely vertigo and it was horrible! Thank you so much and yes, we had an incredible trip despite this!!
Omg Allie!! I have been away and I’m just catching up on your Cuba posts now. I am SO SO SO sorry you went through this. I could actually feel how devastated you must have been trying to get ready for the race you were way too sick to do. So scary and I’m just happy you’re okay. Love you, ladycake!
Thank you so much my friend. I know you totally understand and yes it was horrible but I’m glad it was me and not my kids!
Oh my goodness! I am so sorry to hear you were dick on race day, in a foreign country no less! Glad you are feeling better and thank you so much for posting this! I had a VERY similar experience last weekend except I didn’t listen to my body’s warning signs and *tried to race anyways. I ended up pretty sick and on the verge of going to the medical tent. Thankfully I didn’t die and I have a great group of running friends who were there for me when I literally ( and figuratively)needed shoulders to lean on! I do hope you are feeling much better and are on the road to chasing down the next adventure!
First of all OMG to autocorrect – LOL – and second that is awful about your race! I’m sure if there was even a small chance I could have made it though the race, I would have tried to push it but there was just no way. But, like you, I’ve learned from this experience and obviously ONE race is not worth it!
Glad you had friends to take care of you and you made it out alive!
ugh. Auto correct *sick* not dick