Diabetic Athletes Prepare for the Cuba Triathlon

Andi walks down a few steps to enter the cafeteria and notices our jerseys. “Are those the official shirts of the Cuba triathlon?” She holds up her iPhone and shows me an Instagram photo from the official race coordinators, @multirace, that proves these shirts must be legit.

The unofficial, official La Habana Triathlon shirt (before screenprinting)

The unofficial, official La Habana Triathlon shirt (before screenprinting)

“No, they are for a diabetic travel blog I started,” I mention as my dad turns around to show the logo of DiabetesAbroad on the back. Multirace reposted a photo of our jersey to share the enthusiasm for race day (proof here).

Her husband Mike starts chuckling, “It’s a small world.” He is also a type 1 diabetic triathlete who understands the complexity of trying to bolus for the Hawaiian pizza we ordered.  

Cafe Rueda has road bikes lined up for the La Habana Triathlon, 2017 (photo by: Cafe Rueda)

Cafe Rueda has road bikes lined up for the La Habana Triathlon, 2017 (photo by: Cafe Rueda)

The four of us sit on the bar stools of Café Rueda waiting for the bicycles we rented for La Habana Triathlon happening the next day. On the walls hang photos of famous cyclists and triathletes, while the owner hustles around with an Ironman jersey on. The café serves as the home base for CanBiCuba that rents out bicycles for a minimum of 3 days.

Surprisingly for a country with limited internet, I secured the last road-bike available through email while my Dad, Mike, and Andi wait to see what they would be riding.

We sit there discussing the possibility of racing on beach cruisers. I daydream that my dad’s bike would be turquoise with a big cushy seat, wooden woven basket on the front, and a metal rack on the back that teenage lovers use to get around together.

The owners and staff at CanBiCuba help athletes prepare for race day

The owners and staff at CanBiCuba help athletes prepare for race day

The four bikes are ready for their big reveal outside on the street. “Look” is written down the yellow frame of mine. “Andiamo”, or let’s go in Italian, runs across the brown frame of my father’s. Contrary to the internet forums about cycling in Cuba, all the bikes are fast and up to American standards.

My bike is about $30 USD per day and my Dad’s is about $16 per day. 

Getting to Marina Hemingway from CanbiCuba

From Café Rueda, our new diabetic squad sets off for the ten mile ride to check-in and drop off our bikes at the official site for race day.

Hace mucho sol. It’s a sunny day. We use our bikes to visit some iconic sites of Cuba.

Revolution Square and the José Martí Memorial are in the background as my dad and Andi cross the road

Revolution Square and the José Martí Memorial are in the background as my dad and Andi cross the road

One of our main stops is Revolutionary Square. On each side of the massive parking lot, for a lack of a better description, are two portraits of the two most important diseased figures in the revolution: Che Gueverra and Camilo Cienfuegos. At the top of the lot is the star-shaped José Martí Memorial.

As a side note, a taxi driver told me there is a Cuban law that no living person can have their portrait or painting in public because it is considered propaganda. There are some images of Fidel that contradicted this statement while he was alive, although he may be an exception.

While many reach the square by tour bus or the antique, colorful cars of the 1950s, we are this small group of four cyclists enjoying ourselves. Out of the corner of my ear I hear a whistling sound. We disregard the sound.

Then the unfortunate security guard who is responsible for this entire site definitively locks eye with our group and waves us off our bikes. Apparently, despite having about two acres of open space, he wants us to walk. We oblige.

The ease of traveling with a new diabetic team

Mike checks in on how I am doing, while I check in with Andi to see how far we have come. We are operating as a tag team to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Being surrounded by people who understand the ins and outs of this disease that brings us together makes the ride surprisingly calming. What if this could happen more often? Hint hint ;)

Pocket Earth (pro) is an offline map that can show your location without cell service.

Pocket Earth (pro) is an offline map that can show your location without cell service.

Pro skill for travelers: To navigate in offline mode, or airplane mode, download the app Pocket Earth ($4.99) before you leave home. You can download the map of the entire country of your destination. The best part is that your location, most of the time, appears despite not having cell service. Although it lacks granular detail, this app is what I use to navigate around the world.

Our team quickly streamlines all the tasks we have to get done before race day. Andi and Mike, who ran to the bike rental place, need to stop by their hotel along the way to pick up their race equipment. I check my blood sugar while watching over their bikes as they pop into their room and my dad runs to the bathroom.

Exploring the marina to find registration

Our four bikes round the corner and enter the marina. We are running on island time giving us about twenty minutes to pick up our registration packets and check in our bikes to the transition area before everything closes.

Preparing for race day always takes longer than expected. If you plan to be back by lunchtime then you will be home right in time for supper.

The marina has four or five long lanes lined with boats. Everything appeared to be labeled well yet we went down each and every one of these roads and could not find the building with registration. One athlete would send us one way, and another would send us another.

The actual registration building, once discovered, is covered in triathlon signs.

“Couldn’t they have placed one of these signs on the main road?” mutters my dad.

Marina Hemingway is the start of La Habana Triathlon (exit ramp on the right side of the photo)

Marina Hemingway is the start of La Habana Triathlon (exit ramp on the right side of the photo)

Setting a landmark for a triathlon bike transition

My bike hangs on the metal frame as Mike begins pacing up and down our row, “Warming up for the big day?”

Mike offers this tip: “I overran my bike twice already. You should set a mental landmark so you can find your bike on race day.” 

The landmarks for my bike are a palm tree, the end of one of the race banners, and the beginning of a building. Thanks Mike. My dad lucked out being three steps from the beginning.

Transitioning from the swim to the bike takes the longest amount of time. In this sea of bikes you can easily miss yours, wasting valuable time.

I use a few Spanish phrases to get a taxi for our group in a black Ford from 1952. The golden hour of the sun setting lit up Mike, Andi, and my Dad in the back of the taxi. We walked into a small café a few hours before and left the day as a team.

Bueno suerte. Good luck. See you both tomorrow.