Hello! I’m Matt Parker, the inventor of the ICED Cap. This is a race report (or race review) of the Keys 50 mile ultra race on May 20, 2017. My wife, Sherry and daughter, Misty, flew with me in our plane (I am a private pilot) from Lawrenceville, Georgia on the day before the race. We stopped in Lakeland to refuel and ate lunch at the airport. I filed a flight plan to fly the final leg over Marathon Key first before turning west to land at the Key West airport. We did this so that we could see the whole 50 mile route that I’d be running the next day. The keys are quite beautiful seen from low altitude in a small plane.
One of the reasons that I wanted to run the Keys 50 was to test how well a product that I invented, the ICED Cap, would work in a hot road ultra marathon. The Keys 100 series of races are famous for being very hot and humid. I have run many other races such as 5K’s, 10K’s, triathlons (including 2012 Ironman in Kentucky when it was almost 100 degrees), mountain ultras, and even a Boston Marathon. I did not use ice at Boston; I only used it to store gels and trash.
The weather forecast called for highs in the upper 80’s and for it to be partly cloudy.
ICED Caps are essentially running caps made from a moisture wicking fabric with a pocket for ice on top. The is a drawstring closure to open to put ice in and then close to keep ice inside.
After eating that night, we went to Publix for food, drinks, ice, and a cooler. Because we flew down in a small airplane, we only had room for a small cooler. We bought a large styrofoam cooler and 40 pounds of ice.
The next morning, I had my usual breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter and a banana. We drove our rental car from Key West to Marathon, reversing the race route. I believe this was my first race where I got to see the entire route from the air and the ground before the race. We checked in, and got my number & signs for the car. I went over my race plans with my “crew”. This involved eating a gel every 30 minutes, alternating drinking water and Powerade, a salt pill every hour, and ibuprofen around miles 17 and 34. I ran with a hydration belt that can hold four 8 ounce bottles. I decided to start with 2 bottles of water and 2 bottles of Powerade. This would get me across the 7 mile bridge. After the bridge, I planned on only having one bottle of each and trading for full ones each time I saw my crew. I also wanted an ICED Cap full of ice every time I saw them. One great thing about this race is that you get to see your crew very often, maybe around 20 times. The only extended time without crew access is going across the seven mile bridge. We also planned on me using two ICED Caps, one white and one black. Although it is well-known that normal white hats are better at staying cool than black ones, it is my experience that if there is ice in the ICED Cap, the overwhelming cooling of the ice makes the color a non-issue.
I started in the second wave at 9:50am with only two other people. The first wave that left at 9:45am had maybe 15-20 runners. I am not sure why the second wave was so small. I put on an ICED Cap filled with ice 2 minutes before the start. As usual, I had a “brain freeze” before the start and then for a minute or two. This is normal, especially for men like me with almost no hair. You have to bear the discomfort for a little while, but as the Cap gets wet and you get used to it, it feels great.
In the first few miles, a young female runner went ahead, and I was ahead of the other runner from my wave.
In the Keys races, the race finishes at Key West at approximately mile marker 0. The 50 mile race starts at marker 50. This makes it easy to know how far you have left to run. At around marker 47, seven mile bridge begins. I met Misty before the bridge and traded my ICED Cap for another, which I had already filled and put in the cooler myself before the start. I knew this would be the one stretch where my ice would all melt before seeing my crew, so I wanted as much ice as I could have. When she handed me the Cap, I reached in the cooler and added another handful. Then when I picked up the Cap, it was so full of ice that it was round and about the size of a volleyball. I laughed at myself- I can only imagine how I must have looked running for around a mile holding this absurd looking Cap “ball” on my head with alternating hands. The ice then melted enough that I could run trying to keep my head still like a runway model.
This was my first flat ultra marathon, and I had no idea what kind of pace to run. Is this more similar to a flat marathon or is it more like a 50 mile mountain trail ultra? I really had no idea. Before the race, I set my Garmin Fenix HR watch virtual pacer for a nine hour finish. For big races, I usually set an 1) aggressive goal, 2) a good goal, and 3) a goal that I would be satisfied with, but not super happy. My aggressive goal was 9 hours, the second was 10 hours, and the third was 11. Using the virtual pacer on my Garmin, I can see at any time how many minutes I am ahead or behind the goal pace.
For the beginning miles of the race, I was running about 8 and a half minute miles. I thought this was probably too fast, but it felt like I was jogging slowly. I passed several runners on 7 mile bridge. I had read that the 7 mile bridge was dangerous in other race reports, but because there were orange traffic cones the whole way, it seemed safe enough to me.
On the seven mile bridge, the winds were brisk and were almost a direct tailwind. It was such a tailwind that it made the air feel much more cool. This was true on just about every bridge that day. Since I am a pilot, I am always concerned about wind velocity and direction, especially when landing a plane. For this reason, I had been checking the wind conditions at Key West Airport for weeks before the race. Key West Airport is known for high winds, and I was a little worried about for the landing before the race. (It turned out to be very windy when we landed, but pretty much straight down the East/West runway.) It appears from other race reports that there is generally a tailwind at this race.
With about a mile and a half to go on the bridge, I finally ran out of ice. This was the only time in the race that I did not have ice in my Cap. Because I had started the bridge with such an absurd amount of ice, and most of the cold water drips down to your shirt, my shirt literally looked like I had just been swimming. I have found that when running with ICED Caps, you should wear a short sleeved moisture-wicking shirt but preferably not a tank top. This leaves more fabric for the water to absorbed (to keep you cooler longer). The ICED Cap works by directly cooling your head, then also cooling your torso with cold water and evaporative cooling. (I am an HVAC engineer, and I do not run well in heat. One day a light bulb came on- there must be some way to be cool while running- hence, the ICED Cap.) My running shorts were wet as well. A small amount of water reached my shoes, but not enough to cause blisters. The rest of the day my shoes were fairly dry, since I never again put so much ice in the ICED Cap.
For a few miles, I was running mostly behind another runner- a young man wearing running shorts and no shirt. I noticed that his steps were starting to look uneven. At around the 35 mile marker (15 miles in), he started to stumble and almost fell down. He went into the grass under the shade of a bush. As I ran by, I asked if he was ok. I was unsure what he said but thought maybe he said he was okay. In about a mile, when I saw Sherry and Misty, I told them to see if they could find his crew, if he had one, and give him an ICED Cap. I felt like he might be in trouble with the heat. I found out later that Sherry did give him one and he used it for about 15-20 miles. He said it gave him a brain freeze. They say “nothing new on race day”, and nobody told him he needed to wear it for a few minutes before the brain freeze goes away. I think he kept putting it on and taking it off and therefore never got used to the cooling feeling. I was glad to see that he finished.
At about the 30 mile marker, I was already starting to get “loopy”, where my mind just does not work well. My crew kept asking me what I needed, whether I needed gels, etc. I finally told them to just give me what the plans had called for. I could not remember how long it had been since my last gel, for example. With the exception of Powerade, I ate gels or took salt pills whenever they gave them to me. However, they kept telling me each time I saw them that I was not drinking enough Powerade. My water bottles would be empty or close to it but my Powerade were usually about full. I was starting to feel stomach issues, and Powerade was not helping. I mainly drank water and took gels the rest of the race. I never actually had any stomach issues, but I think I would have if I kept drinking the Powerade.
In addition to feeling loopy at about 20 miles in, I almost got hit by a car. Some guy was trying to turn right onto the busy highway. I assumed he saw me, or maybe I thought nothing at all, and I ran in front of his car, which was not moving at the time. I was maybe 10 feet in front of him when he hit the accelerator. I lunged forward and was ready for impact when he skidded to a stop. I turned and looked at him, he literally squealed his tires as he pulled out. I guess he was mad at me! I felt like I was about to cramp from the sudden lunge, but did not.
One thing I thought was different about this race was how often crews are available. If they are stopping at every authorized aid point, when their runner leaves one aid station, they have to hurry to get to the next one. In fact, one time I got to an aid point before they were ready. Sometimes they have to park across the street, and getting across the street carrying a cooler is not easy. It turned out that having the small cooler for carrying ice and drinks and a large cooler for keeping large quantities of ice was a good idea. During the race, they went to a store and bought 40 more pounds of ice.
In the middle of the race, I began to notice that I kept seeing another runner’s crew at each aid point. They started cheering for me each time. This was nice because although this race is on a very busy highway, it is fairly isolated in terms of seeing other runners and “crowd support”. They started yelling “Go Matt#2!” It turned out their runner was also named Matt and was Matt#1. Somebody bought an ICED Cap from Sherry during the race and let him use it. He told Sherry during the race that it helped.
Somewhere around 30 miles into the race, according to my Garmin, I was about 25 minutes ahead of schedule to finish under 9 hours. My mind was in la-la land, and I started to slow down quite a bit. I felt like I would finish with a good time and I was “phoning it in”. With seven miles to go, another runner passed me at an aid point. My daughter Misty said something like “Dad, you have to beat that guy!” This made me realize that I was not doing all I could do. I remembered looking at past race results for this race and a sub-9 hour finish sometimes won my 50-54 age group, male masters, or maybe even the top overall male. I think it depends on the temperature that day. So I decided to give it all I had. I caught back up to the other runner and he looked younger than me, maybe in his 40’s, but sometimes you can’t tell. I ran the next 5 miles doing essentially all I can do. I saw Sherry and Misty again and told them I only wanted to see them once more. I did not want to stop any more than that. With maybe 3 miles to go, I heard several sets of very fast steps behind me. Because there is a 100 mile relay race the same day, I had been getting passed by multiple runners who looked like they were running 5 or 10ks. It turned out that there were 3 runners that passed me, and one was the runner Misty told me I had to beat. He was really running fast. I tried to keep up, but with 2 miles to go I had nothing left.
I finally crossed the the finish line, and despite my crew telling me I need to walk around, I plopped right down into a chair. Misty told me I was currently in 6th place, 4th male, and first male masters. I literally did not believe it. As it turned out, two other runners, one in his 40s and one in my age group, finished 2-3 minutes ahead of me across the finish line. However, they started in the first wave 5 minutes ahead of me. The net result was that I finished 2-3 minutes ahead of them.
Post Race Notes
As far as the results go, I felt great about how I did. I finished in 8:43. This is the only time I remember actually beating my aggressive goal. I also felt great about how well the ICED Caps did. I think that I would have been 1-2 hours slower without them- in other words, I think the ICED Cap helped me win a master’s award! I estimate that I used between 40-50 pounds of ice in the ICED Caps throughout the Keys 50 race. With 15-20 refills, this means I averaged 2-3 pounds of ice per refilling. Although I did feel a little hot at times, especially on land when there was no wind, this was not as hot of a race to me as it was for most of the other runners.
I think my race strategy that involved alternating ICED Caps and water bottles also saved time at the crew aid stations.
The next day they had a post-race party at the Waterfront Brewery restaurant. The rock band Sister Hazel played there. I met some of the other runners and really enjoyed talking to them. We really enjoyed this race!