Race day! Up at 4:30 for some carbs and water, back to sleep until 6. Our hotel is just 2 blocks from the start, which is always a great thing. Left the hotel just after 6:30 and milled about at the starting line. Promptly at 7, we were off!
On this trip was a high school classmate of mine. Had brunch with Jon Kirn about 6 months ago and mentioned this trip. He had never run a race before, but here he is!
The race starts (and finishes) by the capitol, which looks much like the US building. We were soon along the malecon, the sea wall that Cubans hang out next to. The waves were rough, so there was a lot of splashing over the sea wall.
About 1.5 miles into the race, I could tell that the humidity was going to be a huge factor for me. So I walked through the water stops. The water was delivered in plastic sacks that you bit the end off of. Much more efficient delivery than cups filled with water. Also, more liquid! Each sack held 250ml of water.
We passed the US Embassy near the end of the malecon, it was something to see the building and the US flag flying. Hills started around mile 5, which I was okay with to start. But I began strategically walking the later hills and at one point around mile 9. But only a little to recharge, and then back to running.
The Cubans along the course sat on their front lawns or up on their balconies and watched, but there wasn’t any cheering. That was okay, there was so much to see and absorb along the way, I didn’t miss the signs and bands and cowbells that US races have.
Insight Cuba hired Jenny Hadfield from Runners World as our running coach on Facebook and she was here with us. Around mile 11, I saw an Insight Cuba sign, then realized it was Jenny rooting us on. She had helped coach me through preparing for the heat and humidity, so it was uplifting to see here there. Jenny took this picture.
I pushed through the last 2 miles and was happy to return to the capitol and finish the race. I timed it at 2:38:05, which was fine with me given the conditions.
The race featured a mixture of Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Americans and a few other noticeable nationalities. There were about 5000 runners this year, a record for the number of Cubans and foreign nationals who ran here. It was an incredible experience to see Havana through the streets, so I’m so glad that Ellen encouraged this as the selection for our anniversary trip.
I was able to clean up and take a taxi with 2 other runners to join the companions for lunch at an organic farm outside of Havana. After getting back to the hotel, Ellen led me on a walking tour of old Havana and we did some souvenir shopping.
There was a dinner celebration for the whole tour group, with most of the runners going back to the US on Monday. At each table were 2 Cuban runners. We occasionally had a translator, and otherwise used some Spanish and some English to communicate. It was a special exchange, to talk and share as runners and citizens. It was warm, friendly and uplifting. The race organizer spoke at the dinner about the special bond between the Insight Cuba groups and the Cubans. Maybe there is something to this people-to-people exchange idea.