Congrats to everyone to ran on Nov 18, 2012 in Havana's Marathon (Marabana). Around 2,750 runners ran from more than 35 countries.

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The start of the race (is a marathon really a race for a middle-aged plodder?) is at the Capitolio. It is an impressive building, which gives some legitimacy to the typical Cuban casualness outside. Numbers are pinned onto shirts. The more enthusiastic push forward to get in the front of the pack. I am in no rush: my training schedule fell off a cliff some months ago, replaced by an acceleration of drinking and late nights. Even my associates are now looking professional, limbering up, stretching, rubbing oils and potions, drinking energy drinks. I guess that a pre-race cigarette would not be de rigueur.

It is dark outside, 5.30am. Wishful thinking that I could simply sleep in and let the Havana marathon wait another year. I have, after, all been signed in various times over the years and never quite made it. Unfortunately, I have a pick-up arranged and the phone wakes me from my slumber to let me know that the car is waiting outside—around the corner, to be precise. We pick up a couple more people (Elena, Rob). I only ever see them drinking so how serious can this be after all?"

The start of the race (is a marathon really a race for a middle-aged plodder?) is at the Capitolio. It is an impressive building which gives some legitimacy to the typical Cuban casualness outside. Numbers are pinned onto shirts. The more enthusiastic push forward to get in the front of the pack. I am in no rush: my training schedule fell off a cliff some months ago, replaced by an acceleration of drinking and late nights. Even my associates are now looking professional, limbering up, stretching, rubbing oils and potions, drinking energy drinks. I guess that a pre-race cigarette would not be de rigueur.

We are into the countdown: 10, 9, 8… and the race begins. As I say to my kids, ‘Hup 2, 3, 4’. It is a gentle start down the wide Prado Avenue (hints of Barcelona’s Prado but only the faintest hint) down onto the Malecón. There is sufficient space now to accelerate past people. We rush past the family with two six-year-olds in tow, cruise past the man with one leg on crutches and then are locked into a bitter battle to get past some members of the female Cuban walking team. Onwards along the gorgeous ocean boulevard. There is a loud cheer for an Italian’s call of nature into the sea and another one for the same Cuban walking team—"Oye, linda, ¿qué vas a hacer más tarde?"—from the Cuban lads.

Stepping up the pace now, the fading colonial facades rush by. Well, crawl by would be a better description. The first water break, cheap plastic bags of water and squash, the 5 km mark. So far, so good. Bystanders start asking for the squash bags. This must be the only marathon in the world where the runners give refreshments to the spectators. The sun is starting to come up; it is going to be a long morning.

At the end of the Malecón, we go around the 1830 Restaurant and I see my running partner, Michaela, accelerate away into the blue yonder. We tack back into the city and up one of the few (and pretty moderate) climbs up 10th Street heading to the Charles Chaplin cinema. Around me are a motley collection of runners. It is difficult not to be depressed with my own running abilities when I am running alongside people who seem more like they are running for a bus than finely honed athletes. It is Cuba, so perhaps I should not be too surprised that running gear is a little basic.

At the 10 km mark, a flush of satisfaction rushes through me as many people wrap up their participation with a 20-meter sprint. I am in for the long haul(ish). We are running down 26th Avenue. This is a much less attractive part of the city. Vedado into Nuevo Vedado past the seriously downbeat city zoo. Little old ladies shout out for agua/jugo. Bags go flying in their direction—I don’t look. I am still annoyed that the guy with holes in his shoes who keeps stopping, always manages to get back ahead of me. He looks like he might be a rubbish collector on a regular round.

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