This week on Too Embarrassed to Ask, The Verge’s Lauren Goode and popular gadget-testing blogger Ray Maker (a.k.a. DC Rainmaker) geeked out together on what fitness watch is best, how many bike computers can fit on a single bike at once and what happened that time Ray stepped on a sting ray right before diving into the water for an open-ocean test. Lauren’s usual co-host, Kara Swisher, made herself scarce for this one, decreeing all wearables “unwearables,” but in true #TooEmbarrassed fashion, Lauren and Ray answered reader’s questions and got behind the scenes of a successful blog.
You can read some of the highlights from their discussion at that link, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Lauren Goode: My co-host Kara Swisher isn’t here today. I think she was maybe mildly disgusted when I said that we were going to talk about wearables again, so she quickly made other plans. I had to take this opportunity to talk about wearables, because Ray Maker is in town from Paris. Some of you may know who Ray is or know him by his blog, DC Rainmaker. I have a feeling some of you do know who he is, because he told me when he went running this morning along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, six people called out to him along his run. So, he’s definitely famous in the endurance sports world, but for those of you who don’t know, Ray is a blogger and athlete who covers the world of endurance sports through the lens of computers, basically.
He reviews every wrist wearable, every heart-rate monitor, every bike computer, pedal pods, gloves, sports cameras: You name it, Ray has tried it. He’s blogged about it. He’s YouTubed about it. In October of 2015, he gave up his day job. He did the dream and decided this is what he was going to do full-time. He’s based in Paris, but he happens to be in San Francisco this week, so we brought him in. Ray, thank you so much for being here.
Ray Maker: Thanks for having me on board.
I’m so excited. I tweeted multiple times about this and included many exclamation points.
There was a lot of exclamation points. It’s just for fun, I think, right?
I think so.
Wearables are great.
I think it says a lot that you were running this morning and people were waving to you along Embarcadero.
It was crazy. I didn’t expect it the first time. It was like, “Really?” Then it happened again, again. It’s just not something that happens at home in France. I think it’s because here people are obviously more tech-focused, of course. France isn’t a huge wearable tech hub. Most normal people don’t wear wearable tech there.
From an English-speaking standpoint, my blog’s permanently in English or all in English. The French aren’t as comfortable in English as some other European countries, so I don’t have a huge followership in there. It’s very rare. This weekend was the very first time, I think, in five years that someone’s actually called me out on a middle of a ride in France. So, here, I’m 12 hours on the ground and it’s ...
You’re internet famous. People are probably also trying to look closely at your wrist to see if you’re testing something they haven’t seen before.
They all are. The nice part about France is I don’t have to worry about that at all. I can go incognito anywhere. Here, it’s like, now everyone’s looking at my wrist all the time.
So, I actually want to put my Peter Kafka hat on for a moment. Peter Kafka runs another one of our podcasts, Recode Media. He has people on all the time that are prominent in media, run their own media companies. He just kind of asks them how they got started and what they’re doing in their business. So, I want to talk about you first, before we get to all of the wearable stuff. Tell people how you got into this, because you weren’t always a full-time sports tech blogger.
I was in the technology space and kind of data center design, stuff like that. Over time, I had started a personal blog. I think most people’s personal blogs was mostly just here’s what I ate and here’s what I ... I mean, they’re very, very, very straightforward stuff. Then at one point, I sent a big, long email about a really old Polar watch, actually, to a bunch of co-workers that just was my review of that watch and whether I liked it or didn’t like it and stuff.
What year was this?
2007-ish. It was 10 years ago.
So, this was a while ago.
Long time ago.
Do you remember which Polar watch it was?
Not off the top of my head, no. It was non-GPS. It was just a generic accelerometer-based running watch. It was a longish email by email standards, and I just sent it to him and didn’t think about it. Then a few months later, I started this blog about random personal stuff. One day, I didn’t have a post. I just copied and pasted the email into a post and called it a review and it became popular. Then the next time, I got another GPS or the first GPS running watch. I did the same thing for the old Garmin Forerunner 305, the orange-reddish GPS watch. That happened again and then before I know it, Google did its search magic and people kept coming to the site for the review.
So, I just kept on buying more sports tech stuff and I would write reviews on it. Eventually, it’s kind of gotten a bit out of control now. Now, it is what it is, but it’s sports-tech focused, but it’s also sort of my life as well. It’s like this blend of here’s what I do on a day-to-day basis. Here is what I did this weekend, and then here is the latest review on whatever wearable or action camera or whatever is out there.
I saw you took a painting class recently. Good times.
That went horrible for my particular painting.
Well, stick to the running, I suppose.
That’s definitely true. I had, without question, the worst painting in the class.
Why did you call it DC Rainmaker?
You know how when you’re signing off your AOL screen name, you tried your real name, it didn’t really work, and then you kept on adding numbers, it didn’t really work. So, I was living in DC at the time and Rainmaker was taken. I’m like, “Well, DC Rainmaker.” I tried that and it accepted it on Blogspot. I started the blog and so that’s how it’s stuck. If I had known more than three would eventually read it, I probably would’ve chosen differently, or if I had known I would move to Paris, I probably would’ve chosen differently since I no longer live in DC. It’s just is what it is.
Was Rainmaker a nickname of yours growing up, since your name is Ray Maker?
Not at all. I mean, every once in a while people make, certainly, the joke of Rainmaker versus Ray Maker, but it wasn’t something I thought about. It was just one of those ...
It’s not like you wake up and you’re like, “Make it rain,” every day.
Exactly. I lived in Seattle. I grew up in Seattle. So, it was one of those things where I definitely was used to rain. It literally was just, process of elimination of screen names like in the good old days. That’s as simple as that.
Okay. So, you started this blog. You’re working as an IT consultant and you’re building web frames and things like that?
You moved to Paris. At what point did you say, “All right. This blog, it’s taking off. It’s a real thing”?
I would say around probably a little bit after I went to Paris, around like 2012, 2013. I went to Paris in, I guess, 2012. It was shortly after that that I realized this could be a real thing. The thing is, I loved my day job. My day job was traveling 300,000 miles a year around the world, like I could be in Brazil one week and Australia the next, and it was a lot of fun. So, it wasn’t like I wanted to leave. It was great, and then, eventually, it got to the point where it was just too much stuff. It was essentially balancing two full-time jobs plus helping out my wife with her bakery and one of those things where you just couldn’t do any more. You were sleeping four hours a night and working constantly.
So, it was about 18 months or so before I left my full-time job that ... I got to the point where I’m like, “Okay. I’m not gonna do this.” Then it took that 18 months to start out visas and bureaucracy of that in France to be able to actually make that cut. So, when I finally left on October 2015, that was, like, to me, I was over the hump of, “I’m leaving my job and now I’m doing this full-time.” But I think some people were like, “Oh, was it a big shift?” It’s like, mentally, I had already got past that 18 months prior ... It just took so long to get there. So, by the time I got to that point, I was definitely excited to do something on my own. I think the biggest thing for me is, it’s gaining scheduling freedom.
Even for something as simple as this podcast here, I wouldn’t have had that in a full-time job because I was ... I could’ve been on a plane to Dubai the next day and I couldn’t really control my schedule, and obviously, vacations and stuff, but just having a quick meeting, you’re not really sure if you can do that if you have to respond to someone else.
When you were starting the blog or when the blog started to get popular, were you coming into it thinking, “Okay, I’m an athlete and I’m an athlete who happens to test these technology devices”?
Or were you thinking, “Okay, I’m a technologist, because I work in technology and how can I apply that in some way?”
I think it was definitely from an athletic standpoint first, but with a pretty deep tech background. So, it’s explaining things and understanding why they are what they are, and I think that’s one of the things that’s made it useful for folks. If I’m reviewing a product and something doesn’t work, I want to know why it doesn’t work. I’m not just going to simply go out and say, “Oh, this sucks because it doesn’t work this way,” but, “Why was that decision made from an engineering standpoint?”
Working for a software company, I understood everything’s done for a reason. There’s no accidents. So, I like to go back to companies and say, “Why did you do it this way?” Even if I disagree with why they did it that way, I want to at least get explained why they did it.
I think that helps people understand things. If they understand why the decision was made, then they can maybe decide whether or not the product’s right for them or if that’s the direction I want to go in.
Right. So, just kind of ranting about why it might be missing something or “my battery life is poor” or whatever it might be.
There’s lots of trade-offs. The battery life is a great example, right?
If you were comparing something like the Apple Watch to a traditional fitness watch, people are like, “Oh, the Apple Watch has a beautiful display,” and it absolutely does, but that’s the trade-off right there is that your battery life has a day and a half or so, maybe two days, and a traditional fitness watch could be a month. Understanding that is a very simplistic explanation of why those two might be different, but that kind of diving into those sort of details is what I think people like.
You do all the testing yourself?
Yeah, everything by myself.
Do you have a staff that helps you around the site?
No, I’ve got some web developers that help just from the tech side, which is somewhat funny coming from being a tech guy myself, but I’ve learned, I’ve got to focus my time on something. So, I’d rather focus it on testing and doing that, and then hire people that just maintain the site to make sure it’s up 24/7. My wife helps me write the newsletter and I’ve got one guy that helps me do editing of my grammar and spelling. That’s it.
What about ad sales?
No. It’s actually funny. I’ve tried different ad companies over time and I find the whole ad thing so frustrating. So, I block all the ads for companies that want to advertise with me or want to product review. So, Garmin and Apple, all those companies can’t advertise with me. I ended up using Google AdSense because it just works. I don’t have to think about it. I tried other publishing advertising-type networks and ad quality ...
Have you tried any of the niche health and fitness ad networks?
Yeah. I tried one a year and a half ago. It was one of those things that it sounds great in theory, but when you get to the execution of it, to sell-through volume of, say, four million pageviews a month or whatever it is, it’s actually really tough to get that kind of ... In that fitness realm and then to still adhere to all the blocks that I have. So, be able to say, “No, I can’t get an Adidas or an Under Armour, because they all sell gadgets that I review,” starts to limit your playing field quite a bit. Then you get low-quality ads and then readers complain because they’re getting low-quality ads, especially international folks. My site is split half and half from a readership standpoint between North America and international.
It’s something that you’ve got to pay attention to. If they’re getting crappy ads, people will close the page and won’t come back.
Absolutely. It really can degrade the quality of your site and what you’re trying to do. Is that what your traffic is? Four million views a month?
Yeah, about three to four million a month depending on in-season, out-of-season, whether people are trying to buy what they’re trying to buy, but that’s roughly about the average.
Are you doing affiliate linking?
Yeah, yeah. So, affiliate, people want to support the site, they can use Amazon, and one or two other folks out there. One or two other sites out there, if they want to go ahead and buy stuff. That’s kind of the primary thing. I don’t really care whether you buy a Garmin watch or a Suunto watch or an Apple Watch. If you want to use the Amazon link and buy toilet paper, that is awesome, like just buy a lot of toilet paper. It doesn’t really matter to me what you buy as long as people — or most people at least in the U.S. and a lot of other countries — will use that and that helps.
Are you profitable?
Yeah, it works out. I’m doing pretty well.
Is that mostly through the affiliate business or through ad revenue?
It’s a blend. I would say it’s 70, 80 percent affiliates, 20, 30 percent ads. Ads are slowly building up over time as I got away from ... I just never got back to. AdSense actually turned out to be a pretty good thing. That’s pretty much the majority of revenue. It’s a pretty simple revenue stream between those two. It’s not a lot else out there.
How does YouTube do for you? I mean, I know you’ve been on YouTube for eight years at least and your videos have gotten a lot, I think, more sophisticated and everything over time.
YouTube, money is trivial. It’s literally not worth the time from my standpoint, which sounds silly if I was purely from a business ... If I had a manager, a manager would look at me and say, “Ray, you’re stupid. Why are you wasting time on this?” Because the revenue I get from YouTube isn’t worth the time. I could put out $100,000 on video and get 30 bucks off of that and it’s just not worth it, but I still enjoy it. That’s what’s weird about it. I look it and go, “I think video is definitely the future of a lot of reviews and it’s where a lot of people are getting their content from.”
I think even though if I look purely at the YouTube dashboard on that revenue, that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story, because they could then be going onto my site, and then from there they could go on to buy something via Amazon or wherever else. Then I’m getting that revenue that way. So, it’s somewhat deceiving. I like YouTube. I like the challenge of doing something different — video. That’s probably the reason why I spend so much time on it, but it’s tough sometimes. You sit there and you’ll spend all this time video editing, because I do it all myself. So, I’ll shoot the video, and then you’ll find out you’re missing sound or something stupid and you have to re-shoot it again, and then you edit it, just spend hours, and then you go up and you’re like, “I made six bucks in that video.”
If you don’t have a team of people who are helping you and your video production can take hours out of your day. We certainly go through that.
Those take so long to ...
They take a really long time.
Having worked both in digital video and just writing, most of the time it’s amazing how different the processes are. You’re doing things that are essentially hard to produce. I mean, you’re underwater. You’re swimming, or you’re on a bike.
It’s not like in a room. It’s really tough. You’re thinking about, “I’m moving down the street, let’s say 20 miles on a bike. I’m shooting.” I’m like, “Okay, what’s our mic situation like? Can they hear me? Noise cancellation, syncing up audio. I’m doing data overlays to show people what I want to see. It is complex, and that’s one of those things where the error rate is really high.
I probably only publish to YouTube like 10 percent of what I shoot from a video standpoint, which is an enormous waste of time when you think about how much time that takes you to do all the video production and then they never actually get to YouTube. I’m talking, like, B-roll stuff. I had an idea and 10 percent of those ideas make it to YouTube, just because somewhere along the way, you go, “Wow, this is way too complex to edit now or if I have four different cameras ... “
I was doing a bunch of drone videos and stuff. I’m trying to show tracking of me using autonomous drone stuff and, like, “Okay, I’ve got ... “
Drones on drones on drones.
Literally, it’s drones on drones. I’ve got drones following me, following a camera, and before I know it, I have five cameras and you’re trying to sync all this stuff — invariably, because it’s autonomous drone stuff, it always goes wrong. So you’re taking multiple takes to try to get it right. It’s really funny and kind of a funny thing. You sit there and you just kind of go, “Wow, that’s a lot just to show what should be a basic concept,” like to show does it work or does it not work? Especially in drone videos, because in YouTube, the criticality factor is way higher than any other segment. Even when you want to show how bad something is, then people will tell you, “You did it wrong.” It’s like, I’ve done this five times now and it doesn’t work.
It doesn’t work.
It simply doesn’t work.
But you need to trust me on that. I can’t be a true leader for this particular thing. It doesn’t work.
Exactly. That’s always a tough part. It’s kind of explaining and finding that balance of what is something that I’ve done wrong versus something that the product simply doesn’t work?
Right. There’s a very enthusiastic audience on YouTube for gadget reviews especially, but when you have something negative to say, you can expect blowback even if you’re completely founded in your opinion. It does take a lot of work. You have to work out multiple times a day on top of that and you’re maintaining your blogs, so it’s not like you can just conjure up this Casey Neistat existence where you’re just GoProing your entire life.
Exactly. That’d be nice. Do not get me wrong. I do not envy Casey in any way, shape or form from a lifestyle standpoint. I think that’s a lot of work. I’m sure he does a lot of work. He runs as well, right? He’s a big runner.
There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. The majority of my day is answering emails and seeing comments. I spend four to six hours a day just responding to comments on the site, which if you think of it, how much time that is in the course of a day. Again, going back to, “Is it worthwhile?” I think that is worthwhile, because I think people find value in those comments, like my Garmin interviews could have 3,000 comments on that review in terms of people that are responding to questions and stuff. From a search standpoint, that then gets into CO and all that kind of stuff or build, and that becomes the predominant result. So, there’s definitely value in responding to all that, but it’s a lot of time.
I know you’re on Twitter because it’s how we first connected, but do you feel compelled to answer your fans, for lack of a better word, your audience on Snapchat, Instagram, all those platforms?
My wife gives me a really hard time on Instagram. She’s like, “You’re the worst Instagram person ever.” Instagram this morning, so I have checked off that list for at least another one. I have not got into Snapchat much, which I know sounds weird from a tech standpoint. I’m keenly aware of it. I follow exactly one person on Snapchat, but I’m just ... You get to a point where you’ve got to focus on a channel and focus on whatever that is. So, for me, right now, that’s my blog itself, it’s Twitter, it’s YouTube, and Facebook as well. Facebook pages, but that’s it. I did Google pages for a while and it’s, like, there’s no benefit to that. So, I’ve eventually got, from a business standpoint, to say, “That’s not worth the time anymore.”
I’m sure there’s a lot of value in Snapchat or, for example, Instagram Stories, but it’s just one of those ... There’s only so many hours in the day, and how do you respond to people on all those channels?
So, what is a typical day for you, aside from answering emails? When you’re deciding what device you’re going to be testing — or devices, because I’ve seen you wear multiple watches at the same time — or what exercise you’re going to do. What does your training schedule look like?
It’s kind of messy. My training schedule is more structured if I was training for a certain race and I would have various builds and all that kind of stuff and tapers. It was very, very structured. Now, it’s sort of like just survival mode, in the sense I’m training based on what I need to test. If I have a bunch of bike stuff coming up, I’m focused on bike training. If I’ve got running stuff, it’s run-focused training. I kind of switch back and forth depending on what I’m trying to accomplish from a testing standpoint. So, that really gets into my day.
I mean, like a lot of other media outlets, we’re probably structured towards what releases are coming up. What’s in embargoed news? What are timelines to hit? This week, there were two different embargoed fitness things out there that I had to focus on to make sure to hit that exact moment at 7:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, yesterday, that a post hit, and so on. I definitely focus on that and that kind of structures my week.
Then if there’s not something that’s hitting my radar that week, I’ll try to fill in with the other product reviews. Then that drives what workouts I’m doing. If I’m sitting there going, “Well, I’ve got a bike power meter, then I’ve got to ... What things do I have left to get on that test list?” So, I got the outdoor rides that I want done. I got the indoor rides that I want done. Do I have certain types of testing I want done? That’ll drive what I’m doing that week.
Do you have any kind of lab or a facility that you use for testing heart rate and all that?
Yes, I’ve got what’s called the DCR Cave, so it’s actually an underground cave literally in France. It’s underneath my wife’s bakery. That’s where I’ve got tons of trainers and gears and equipment that I can test things. Really, I use me and myself, like, in terms of my body as a test vehicle. So, certainly, over the next few weeks while I’m here in the States, I’ll be testing tons of things. I’m just a mobile test lab and I brought a ton of stuff. I mean, half of my suitcase was gear to test or to support testing.
So, you really set off all the TSA alarms.
It was so much. My baggage is always delayed. Always, always, always delayed. It’s really bad. They want to take everything apart and it’s a mess.
I think it’s really important to be an athlete when you’re testing things. There’s a ton of equipment out there that can simulate an athlete, but it’s still not an athlete. It’s still not a person. It still doesn’t act like a person. I was listening to somebody the other day talking about bike power meters. Bike power meters measure essentially how much effort that you’re putting into a bike in a very quantifiable way. They were talking about a dyno-based utility to be able to measure a certain amount of or drive a certain amount of effort into a bike to be able to produce and say, “If this bike is producing 300 watts, then is the power meter measuring that exactly?”
That’s great, but in today’s world, that’s not where bicycle power meters fail. They fail outdoors on environments with high temperature, low temperature, with humidity, with cobblestones, rough roads, and so that’s where I want to focus testing. Certainly, I’ll go indoors and do all the basics, but I want to make sure I’m testing things that are tougher. The same is true with optical heart rate sensors and stuff. It’s easier to sit on a spin bike and get optical heart rate, but then go for an outdoor ride on a rough road or go for a hard run up and down stairs, that kind of stuff.
You mean the pendulum motion of your arms and things moving around and light changing and all of that in order to see, really. Even just a human being going for a run and looking down to your watch and going through the data pages and figuring out if that UI is intuitive enough to cycle through when you’re actually running, like, maxing yourself out. It’s not something that a robot can simulate.
You just got to put in miles, I guess, is the simplest thing.
What do you eat?
Do people ask you that a lot?
Yeah. I think it’s funny because I ... I’m sure folks look at me and they’re like, “He knows everything about athletics and stuff and nutrition and all these sort of things.” Certainly, I’m very ...
You’re like, “My wife owns a bakery. I just go there.”
Exactly. She makes cakes for a living. Literally, I test and eat cakes. I mean, that’s my ideal. It’s the only reason why I run is to eat more cake. So, I eat anything. I’m happy to have a burger. I ate Chipotle last night for dinner. It was like one of those like, “Great, done.” Living in Paris, obviously, becoming a foodie is easier. The food is seen as incredible there. There’s a lot of that that we enjoy, but at the same time, I’m also happy to have a Five Guys burger in Paris too, because now we have the world’s largest Five Guys in Paris, so it’s great.
Really? Is that really a thing?
It’s true. The world’s largest Chipotle and the world’s largest Five Guys are both in Paris.
I wouldn’t think that in Paris.
It’s five stories.
I would think that in Time Square, New York City.
Wow. Five stories of Five Guy’s french fries. I think I could get behind that.
You don’t have a caloric threshold that you’re saying like, “I wanna hit this each day because I did X number of workouts”?
Nothing, no. I used to do a lot of calorie counting and stuff. I used to weigh a whole lot more before I started training for my first marathon, but I just try to keep it balanced and think like anyone else. You go up and down depending on the seasons and stuff, and so like most people, you tend to weigh a little more in the winter and a little less in the summer and I try to keep it balanced. Certainly, living in Europe helps out from a ... I walk everywhere. I don’t have a car, so I’m putting down 10 or 15 thousand steps a day, which is pretty straightforward and pretty easy.
It is. It’s incredibly helpful. We don’t quite have that in the Bay Area. Well, some people do. I mean, the city directly, but there’s a lot of traffic here right now.
Which is one of the biggest changes for me when I moved from New York City out here. Anyway, so, someone was up on this blog post on DC Rainmaker not long ago. Other people had seen this because it was old and I just happened to see it. We emailed about it. You got stung by a stingray at one point when you were testing ... It was a Polar, you were testing.
Was it the V800?
In Florida ... You happened to be in Florida. It horrified me for a multitude of reasons, because it sounds like you were in terrible pain, so that’s the worst thing. Also, I’d just taken up surfing again, so stingrays are among one of the things that are on my mind. I was curious whether that was the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you while you’ve been training or testing something for the blog or if there’s something else.
I’d say that’s pretty high up there. I was hit by a car in the middle of a race.
So, that was definitely up there too. The triathlon a couple years ago ...
I was just on the course riding along and a car went through a stop sign and t-boned me. I went flying off, but I actually finished the race. After the ambulance came and everything else, I thought it was a good idea at the time. It was actually a horrible idea. I’d broken my femur.
How many more miles did you have to go?
I had to only bike another two miles, then I had to run a 10K. I actually ran my fastest 10K ever.
With a broken femur?
With a broken femur, but I couldn’t walk the next day.
Were you concerned at all about internal bleeding or anything worse than that?
No, that would’ve been logical. I mean, you know this, like, if you were in a race, you don’t really think about this. You’re like, “I’m only two miles from the end of the bike and then running’s fine. It’ll be all fine,” despite the fact that my bike was cracked and it didn’t really roll very well, but I just ... It was mostly downhill. It worked out, but it was just one of those ... Looking back on it, it was definitely pretty stupid, but I tracked it off.
So, you’ve been hit by a car. You’ve been stung by a stingray directly in the foot?
I like how, by the way, the bottom of that post — and everyone who’s listening should go check this out or maybe not if you’ve a terrible fear of stingrays, because it’s not going to help anything. At the bottom, you did say that you had given your wife permission to take the photos of you sort of lying prone and not in a good space.
We have a bilateral policy that says that either of us can take those photos knowing that the other person would definitely want them later on in life. So, that was one of those scenarios that even though I was basically passed out with a bunch of medical stuff being stuck into me on a beach, with tourists looking over, that was ... She took a couple snaps along the way.
Anything else remarkable about your testing experiences?
No, I think it’s interesting just to ... I mean, obviously, there is those instances, which, by the way, I almost got stung by another stingray two months ago in Australia.
While testing stuff, I was standing in the water, like, taking photos of watches just before I start to swim. I had finished all the photos of all these watches and I look down and within six inches of my foot was a stingray right in from me. So, my next step would’ve been directly on top of it ...
Again. I’m like, “Really?”
Did you do the stingray shuffle?
That was the worst part of the whole stingray thing is that when I mentioned that point in Florida, people were like, “Oh, you didn’t do the stingray shuffle?” I’m like, “No. It’s not mentioned ... I’m in the airport like, ‘Welcome to Tampa. Do the stingray shuffle.’” No, of course not, why would I know this? I lived in Seattle and DC. Stingrays aren’t a challenge there.
Right, right. It’s not like you were at the beach and it says, “Warning: Rocks and sharks and do the stingray shuffle.”
It would be really helpful in a lot of places, especially warm-weather places. The first surfing lesson I ever had, which, by the way, terrified me. It was in Costa Rica and I was in way over my head and I walked out and I didn’t surf again for four years. I was told to do the stingray shuffle, so that I learned very early on if you’re going to do water sports, you need to ... In the ocean, you need to do that.
Not right now.
Unfortunately, you do, because it’s been happening a lot. It seems anecdotally, people I talk to, it’s been happening a lot more frequently. In any case, what’s the most number of wearables you’ve ever worn on your wrist at any given time while testing?
I would say on my wrists themselves maybe seven or eight. I’ve kind of gotten away from it, putting more than ... I mean, look, with all the sensors — all the wearables now having optical sensors — if you have more than one on the wrist, it tends to actually impact the other ones from an optical sensor standpoint, because it’ll block ... It’ll basically restrict blood flow and then the second one doesn’t pick up correctly. It’s really easy to show and demonstrate. I even just did this weekend just for fun, just to kind of demonstrate how having two on the same wrist immediately impacts, as you’re doing right there.
Two very different devices I’m wearing.
Two very different devices, and you got a totally functional other wrist, too, that’s empty.
Right. That’s for my hair ties.
Yeah. Important things. If I’m going for a run, I’m trying to set GPS. I’ll put them all in a camera bag or something like that, another backpack to run with me. So, it’s not unusual. I mean, most runs I have four watches with me in some way, shape or form.
Most bike rides I have five to seven bike computers. I think at the top was like 14 bike computers on a bike once. That was in the Alps, so I was up and down these massive mountains with all this extra weight on there. Then everyone looking at me. Of course, all these French people look at me like, “What are you doing? I don’t even have one bike computer and you have 14. What’s wrong with you?”
I have to say, as much as we miss Kara ... Kara, we miss you ... She would by this point — Eric’s laughing — she would’ve left the room. She would’ve been like, “I can’t handle this.” She has a drawer of “unwearables,” because she tries them out for a few months, and like a lot of other consumers ends up taking them off her wrist and ditching them. Doesn’t see the value in them. But I love wearables. So, if you were to choose just one watch right now that you would use ...
It’s tough. I’m not wearing any right now.
What’s your go-to? You’re not.
I know. It’s weird.
That tells me you’ve been testing something that’s top secret, by the way, the fact that you’re not wearing anything and I see a tan line on your wrist.
I’m super, super like ... I don’t know what the right word is, but focused on knowing what’s on my wrist in any point in time, where what the situation is. I know I’m keenly aware that people always look at my wrist. Depending what I’m in, even shooting videos and stuff, and not just necessarily products that maybe unreleased but just ... I think it’s right. If I’m shooting a video about one type of device, not to have a competitor’s device on my wrist at the same time, that just looks weird. I don’t think it’s the right message to send, but to focus on what I’m doing and what situations I’m in. At the same time, I’m testing stuff all the time. So, I’m just going to wear what I’m going to wear.
I was at a event last fall and there was a bunch of Garmin folks there or something and someone’s like, “Why are you wearing that Polar watch?” Not in an accusatory standpoint, just like, that’s a lower-end Polar watch, which is their competitor. People look at your wrist and you kind of assume that that’s your preference. I’m like, “Well, this is just what I’m testing right now. This is the watch du jour. I have to wear this to today, ’cause I have to get the test data in.” So, that’s generally what it is. Right now, I’m kind of in actually an odd point where, like for just today, I don’t have much going on from the testing standpoint. I got tons of stuff starting tomorrow.
I got stuff, like, when I mentioned I was here in San Francisco, Fitbit couriered over a bunch of stuff to my hotel. So, I have that. All of that kind of stuff is always, always going on. I just haven’t had the chance to unbox some them and put them on my wrist yet. As far as my daily one, I would say right now if I had to pick one, it’d either be the Fenix 5 from Garmin or the 935 from Garmin.
935XT, the Forerunner that came out last year.
It’s so funny. Those are probably my choices as well. I really liked the 935XT last year, and then I just reviewed the 5S, the Garmin Fenix 5S, and I was really impressed by it. I’m so happy they made something a little bit smaller for smaller-wristed indoor women.
Walt Mossberg’s calling me right now, but I’m going to just decline this for a moment, or should I take the call from Walt during the podcast?
I think so.
Hey Walt, I’m taping a podcast right now and you’re on the air.
Walt Mossberg: Well, I think you probably shouldn’t be talking to me.
I just wanted to say hi.
WM: Very nice of you, but you should go back to taping.
Are you sure? So, I’ve got DC Rainmaker in the studio and Kara’s not here, because I think her head was going to explode if we talked about wearables anymore, but Ray Maker runs one of the best tech and fitness blogs out there. So, he’s here.
WM: Okay, cool. Well, then, say hi. Do the podcast. I’m just calling to check in. We haven’t talked, I think, since your trip and I thought we would catch up a little.
Okay, sounds good. I’ll call you later.
WM: See you.
So, what were we saying? Oh, we were talking about the Garmin, the Fenix 5S, and you reviewed the 5, obviously, and gave it thumbs up.
It’s a solid watch. I think it’s Garmin’s best wearable they’ve ever made in terms ... They’re getting to a point where the maturity level is so high now, they’re not starting from scratch every time. I think that from a product development standpoint, they’ve kind of merged all those resources now and they’re actually building upon their past products as opposed to ... A lot of products would do a whole reset every time. They’ll release a new product and you got to wait for that product to mature and it just takes so long. They’re at the point now where they’re releasing quick enough that ... I mean, kind of like the iPhone or a lot of other things where when you go from version to version, you’re not seeing, like, going backwards in time, whereas it’s true for a lot of products.
They go backwards for a few months, then you have to go forward, and I think Garmin’s got to the point where they’re mature enough now that they’re just legitimately going forward for the most part and that backwards period is either nonexistent or just a couple weeks before the last minor firmware stuff goes out. I really like that my wife wears the 5S as well. She likes it. It’s just a really, really solid watch.
What do you think of Garmin’s software?
It’s a mixed bag. I’m mixed on the app. I tweeted out the other day making fun of that runner man thing that pops up on the app every time it’s thinking and it’s like, “Where are you? What are you thinking about? Just open up the app.” Don’t show anything if you’re thinking. I’m like, “Just wait.”
They’ve made a lot of good strides in the last couple years. It’s still think there are rough spots. There’s a long history as to why that is in terms of them laying off an entire team and all that kind of stuff that got them to where they are today. I think they’re getting a lot better than I think some folks give them credit for. I think if you compare them with a lot of their competitors, it’s a mixed bag. Some people prefer Polar, some people prefer Suunto, and then if you look in the wearable side especially, then you get to preference between Fitbit and them.
I think for the average consumer buying, for example, an activity tracker, there’s not a lot of difference between Fitbit and Garmin. For example, at the end of the day, it’s one of those ...
Really? I think there is.
From a hardware or software standpoint?
From a software standpoint, actually. Well, just in a sense that ... They both offer desktop software, but Garmin really started as pretty granular desktop software and now it feels to me like they’ve just sort of condensed all of that information into a mobile app. And the fact that you have to swipe through 10 different pages to see your data when you open the mobile app is ...
But then, like you pointed out, I mean, I just ... I’m wearing a Suunto Spartan HR. I just started wearing it and opened up the Suunto Moves app and it’s got ... I don’t want to misquote this, but I think like one and a half stars or two and half stars in the app store. It’s all relative, right?
It is, yeah. It’s all relative. I think different apps do different things better than others. I think Fitbit’s social piece is way better than Garmin’s social piece. That’s definitely. I think some of the surfacing of information is a lot better than Garmin’s. I think when you get into the athletic side, Garmin tends to do a better job at showing you that data that you want from an endurance standpoint or whatever. That’s really tough. Fitbit’s in a little bit easier spot, because they’re not trying to cater to two vastly different audiences versus Garmin is trying to cater to someone who’s not even going to run at all, just going to walk and wear this activity tracker. At the same time, someone that is in training and is an Olympic athletes, they could be an Olympic athlete and a gold medalist that is trying to get very granular data.
So, it’s really tough to be that company for two different pieces, but I think even with that in mind, Garmin can do a heck of a lot better job on just the dashboard page itself of some of these, of the app, just to be able to see that basic data.
What do you think of Apple Watch?
I think they make — without question — the best smartwatch out there. Period. But not the best fitness watch.
How do you define a smartwatch versus a smart fitness watch?
So, that’s the definition that keeps on changing for everyone, including IDC, those tracking things. It’s like every month, there’s a different definition of what’s a smartwatch. I always laugh when I look at the rankings and stuff. You’re like, “Wait a second, wasn’t last month this wasn’t included, and now it is included? I don’t understand that.” I’m considering a smartwatch anything that I get notifications on and I know the different definitions of one that has apps versus not apps and it gets really granular. For me, though, I think the reason why it’s so good is just the nuances. It’s these nuances of the Apple Watch that when you wear it for a long time, you start to pick up on ... And how it reacts to you.
The example I always give in the Apple Watch with text notification is where a text message come in, I could be sitting, like, I’m at a table with other people right now and you don’t see that text message on my wrist even though you’re two feet away from me. It shows blank, but then the second I show my wrist, it could be five minutes later, I then see the text message myself, whereas with your Suunto right now, I’m seeing the text message as you’re coming in as incoming of the last half an hour on the display right then and there, because I see them. There’s no holding back until ... You’re not in control of the watch anymore. So, I think it’s that kind of stuff that’s so nuanced that they do so well.
From a fitness standpoint, it starts to fall apart. I think it could be heart rate accuracy. There’s some quirks and GPS and things like that. And then just the reality of interfacing with something that doesn’t really have buttons for the fitness side of it. There’s buttons on the Apple Watch, but you can’t actually use them in a fitness context. They’re to get back to other menus and stuff like that. So, it’s a bit more tough then if you’re doing a really hard interval out there and you’re running as you can that you want to mark a lap, try doing that on a Apple Watch on a rainy night, it’s really tough.
It just doesn’t work that well.
You’re also a triathlete and there’s no real triathlon mode on Apple Watch?
So, you have to sort of stop and start and stop and start every time you’re in a transition.
And when you’re shaving off seconds, that’s not ideal, right?
I say this like I sound like I know I’ve done triathlons before. I’ve never done triathlon.
What? Why not?
I should. I should. I’m looking to sign up. I should sign up for a sprint. I’m going to start ...
That’s like this year. This summer goal, just do a sprint.
Sprint is like the playground crack of a triathlon. You basically go out. You do it. You have so much fun. You can still walk afterwards. It’s great. A marathon, you can’t walk the next day.
It’s the same thing with ... Someone once told me that a half marathon is a very gentlemanly distance, that you can go out, you can run a half marathon and most people can still go about the rest of their day with some degree of normalcy. They may be sore, but they’re not lying on the couch looking up at the ceiling for three days.
Right. They’re able to go to work the next day.
Exactly. They go to work. It’s the same thing with the sprint.
Well, although, I will say, every time I’ve done a half marathon, I said to myself that afterwards ... I don’t think that I could do two of these right now, so maybe a sprint is more of my style.
Sprints are so much fun.
Then I’ll go for the tri at some point. But I mean, with certain smartwatches, that seems to be the limitation.
I just reviewed the LG Watch Sport and it had this one really interesting feature where it will automatically recognize your strength-training exercises, which didn’t work all of the time. Sometimes it thought I was chest pressing when I was actually doing shoulder flies or whatever it might be, right?
But that was really cool and I thought, “Oh ... “ It has GPS and LTE built in, but then the battery was terrible. So, you think about how they’re catering to “serious athletes” in one area, and then you think about that one critical area where you’re making that trade-off, and you’re like, “Well, I would probably just get a Garmin or a Polar.”
It’s really tough when you get to that level. I saw that at one of the European tech trade shows as well. I was looking in a booth for ... I don’t know who it was. LG ... I don’t want to say legacy phone carriers, but one of the big phone carriers that had wearables. You looked at the booth and you were looking at these ads or their whatever you call stuff in the booth, like photo stuff. You’re looking at, going, “That doesn’t make sense. There’s fundamentally, that’s the wrong metric in sport." Some ad person must have said, “Oh, we’ll just toss in these metrics on running.” You’re like, “That’s a cycling metric. Why is it on a running app? You don’t use that that way.” I think it’s really tough for those companies to bridge that gap into being sport-focused.
It’s something that certainly Apple has plenty of very capable athletes there. They’re a big company, they have a lot people that understand sport fitness, but Apple’s challenge is to be able to balance with something that they want to sell millions of units of to a wide number of people. There’s nothing wrong with making a choice. I think it’s tougher if you’re marketing a sport watch to be able to find that balance and make sure that the nuances are right in the sporting sense, because you’ll get slaughtered for it. Athletes will look at that and laugh and just move on to the next thing, in the same way that people on the other side will look at a pure athletic watch and be like, “Well, that’s stupid. I don’t need all that stuff.”
Right, or, “I don’t like the way it looks,” or something like that.
I’m really glad that Apple added waterproofing, though.
To the Series 2, and GPS. The waterproofing mechanism is pretty cool.
It’s super cool to listen to and watch and all that stuff. It’s fun. I did a waterproofing test on the first one. I put it in a waterproofing chamber and everything and it held up. There was definitely a fair amount of waterproofing they had done on that unit, but they were just being cautious, which is fine, makes sense.
So, in a minute, we’re actually going to take some questions from Ray’s fans and he’s going to answer them, but first we have to go make some money. Kara’s not here today, so I will say her favorite word, which is ka-ching.
Okay. I think I have taken up enough of your time with my own questions. I should probably get to our reader questions, since that is point of the show and anyone who’s been listening along is probably thinking, “I’d really like it if she got to my questions now.”
So, you all know how it works. Every week, we take tech questions from our readers and listeners and we try to answer everything that we can. This week, we’re answering everything you could possibly want to know about health and fitness trackers with Ray Maker of DC Rainmaker fame. The first question is from @takenwithcamera. That’s a good handle. “How has his life changed since he quit his day job and is full-time with the site?”
The biggest thing is schedule. It’s control of the schedule. I think we talked a little bit of this earlier, but it’s just the ability to schedule time on my own terms and not have to worry about something else popping up or changing and canceling on stuff. It sounds so trivial until you realize I can actually take a meeting with someone and not have to worry about it and know that it’s my time. Beyond that, I still work a lot of hours. I still swim. I can run. I still do all the stuff that everyone else does. It’s just simply I can schedule my own time now.
Okay. So, scheduling. There are perks running your own thing. You should live the Brian Lam life. You know Brian Lam from the Wirecutter, right?
Just split your time between two exotic locations, go surfing from time to time, then eventually sell your site to the New York Times.
It’s funny, I thought about ... Not to sell the site portion, but if the New York Times does want to buy it for $20 million or whatever it was they bought that for ...
If they’re listening right now.
I’m definitely open to that. Maybe even 19 mil, if you want to deal, but I know it’s funny. We talked about, like, my wife and I were saying, “We don’t really need to live any ... “ Give a location. I think there’s certain times of the year for bicycle trainer season that I need to be in one place, because people are sending me 50-pound packages to test these things. That’s the fall, but like this past year, we went to Australia for all of January and just did some work from there, because there is a big bike race down there, and then just kind of wander around, and then we’ll do the same thing next year as well. Probably for a lot longer, because nobody really wants to be in Northern Europe in winter anyways.
So, that’s something we kind of talked about, just living wherever we want to be for a couple months at a time.
It’s amazing when you think about that as a future of media, too. You’re totally distributed. You’re not tied to a specific newsroom. It’s not like you have bureaus set up in time zones. You’re also covering a specific type of content, but you can kind of go everywhere, go anywhere and everywhere.
Just like the next three weeks, or whatever it is I’m here in California for. I brought an extra-large suitcase full of stuff and I certainly spent a lot of time thinking about exactly what I need for three weeks worth of content and beyond to make sure I have all the right gadgets for that, but once I’m here, I’m self-sufficient within that.
Will Robertson asks, “Can Apple Watch or the recent Android Wear watches such as Polar, New Balance, LG, etc., replace a dedicated running watch yet?”
I think they can from a running standpoint. I think for some people they can. Not everyone, but I think that if you don’t really care about all the higher-end infrastructure-type pieces or structure training and that kind of stuff on a Garmin wearable or a Suunto, whatever, then I think they can.
To be fair, a lot of that same stuff exists on the Apple Watch and the former third-party apps. There are some amazing third-party apps out there on the Apple Watch that do really cool stuff from a training standpoint and plans and all that kind of stuff. This goes back to a little bit earlier, we talked about the usability of that and tough workout environments and whether that’s swimming or it’s running intervals at night around a track when it’s pouring out and trying to use a touchscreen, that’s where it’s more difficult.
If you’re running 10K and every other day you run Central Park and only when it’s sunny out and you’re just at your own pace, then it’s probably fine.
Fine. It’s probably fine. Well, minus the really sunny part because display.
Display. It’s the thought that counts. There’s nothing wrong with running around Central Park. By the way, on a sunny day, I love doing that too.
That sounds amazing. Actually, Joe Coolls responded to that question, said, “No, try doing an Iron Man with an Apple Watch (smiley face).”
Sam Cash asks, “What would be a killer sports app for the Apple Watch?”
Well, it seems like it has a lot, a fair amount already, but ...
I think it has most of what you need from a sports standpoint. I think the biggest challenge with any of the Android Wear, Apple Watch type of scenarios is that you’re having to get all these different apps. So if you go and get a Garmin or a Polar or Suunto, whatever you want, that’s fitness-focused, all that stuff is by and large in that unit itself. Certainly, Garmin has their Connect IQ for apps and whatnot, but the core of what you want to do is within that watch, without having to download additional apps, which is kind of what you want in some ways on a wearable, versus on a phone, certainly, you want the ecosystem of apps and everything like that.
You want the core things to be there, versus on an Apple Watch or an Android Wear watch, if you want to do something, you have to download an app for that. You have to find the best bike app or you have to find the best running app or the best swimming app, and then does that work with the services that you want it to? That’s where it kind of gets a bit tougher. Which on the flip side, that’s flexibility. That’s the ability to say ... Let’s say Apple Watch’s default running app sucks. You guys say, “No, we want to use something else,” and go off and use another company’s, and that’s great. You can do that, versus on the Garmin side, you’re kind of tied, or Suunto, you’re tied to that particular app for that functionality.
The core apps. Ian Burman says, to ask Ray about business travel tips for working out, device tracker, algorithm, assumptions, and relevancy under-the-radar fit-tech startups. Okay, these are three questions. First part’s four parts. I like the first one. Let’s focus on that. What are your tips for working out when you’re traveling?
Just get it done. Just get it done.
Just get it done.
Just go out and do it. I, especially, for me, get off the plane, and if you’re not falling-over tired, just do it then. Just go out and run. I’ve gotten off of 14-hour flights and just gone out and run 20 miles. You’re going to feel crappy for the first mile or something, but you’ll feel so much better at the end of it. It’s done. You’re not thinking about it, versus I feel like it’s really easy when you’re traveling to get into that rut of, “First day, I was on a plane and this and that, and then the second day, well, I got busy with work,” and before you know it, a week’s gone by and you actually haven’t done anything to keep yourself healthy. That’s the one time that you should be healthy, because you’re eating crappy hotel foot or eating out every night.
I just get it done. I think at the same time, don’t overthink the workout. If you’re training for a marathon or training for some event that you’re really focused on structural workouts, in some ways that’s the time to give yourself a break about structure and focus on keeping, maintaining fitness. You talk about building fitness levels and maintaining or losing fitness levels depending on what you’re looking at — kind of different categories. Don’t overstress on trying to build your fitness level. Just maintain while you’re traveling and that’s usually going to still help you so that when you back, you’re still healthy. If you’re traveling internationally and whatnot, you could get sick easily in traveling just in terms of fatigue.
If you try to go out and do my example of a 20-mile run, then you could end up being sick versus just simply maintain. For me, traveling, I don’t generally bother to swim, because logistics are usually too messy to deal with. Trying to find the right swimming pool ... Before you know it, you go to the swimming pool and the hours aren’t what they’re supposed to be, then you’ve wasted an entire workout.
I don’t generally try to do bikes when I’m traveling unless I’m somewhere for a long period of time. Just because, again, I don’t want to bring a bike somewhere ... I don’t want to deal with rentals. I just run. I use a hotel bike if I need to, to get the workout in. I enjoy ... this morning I ran and just went out whenever it was, just before sunrise and it was great.
I would say my process is probably somewhat similar. I definitely never swim when I’m on the road. I definitely never bike when I’m on the road unless I’m renting the bike for the day to go ride along the beach type thing. Running, yeah, but I tend to be a little bit more aware of my surroundings when I travel too. If I’m really unfamiliar with an area, I won’t go running outside. Even just doing intervals in a crappy hotel treadmill is better than nothing.
Even if you’re going to be bored because maybe you forgot your favorite headphones or there’s nothing to watch. You’re staring at a wall. I mean, doing intervals is just a great way to keep it interesting.
Absolutely. From a finding places standpoint, my two biggest tips are water and airports. So, you can run along and around water in almost every city on earth and you can run around an airport in almost every city in earth except for here in San Francisco. They make great running routes just to ... You can follow the perimeter road, because almost every airport has a perimeter road. Every time it’s outside the fence, so you can just run around and that’s a ... They’re usually well-lit, well-secure.
That’s a good tip. So, you’re not that person that’s waking up and doing a thousand burpees in your hotel room?
Not a chance. Nope.
I like that about you. Next question is from John Brubaker. “Garmin makes such a big deal of ‘performance condition’ in their new watches, so why doesn’t this integrate with other devices like Edge?”
That’s a good question. They license it from Firstbeat, which is a Finnish heart-rate analytics firm and they probably don’t want to pay licensing fee for the integration.
Okay. So, basically, they’re putting it on their watches, but you’re out of luck with the bike computer, because it’s more places for them to have to pay for it?
All right, that was a good answer. Sam Mallery, “Kara once said she wanted her fitness app to tell her how much to run. Is automated training ... “ By the way, that was an earlier podcast we did about which running app you should use, and you can find that in our archives. Sam asks, “Is automated training the future and can it be applied to running and swimming?”
I think it’s getting there. One app on the cycling side called Xert, X-E-R-T, is doing that now where they aren’t necessarily telling you how long to run or bike in this case. They’re changing duration on the fly while you’re on the bike workout for your structural workout. So, it’s really looking at you and saying, “You’re doing this well or not well,” and you’re trying to achieve a certain amount of exertion points essentially in a very technical sense. It’s going to adjust your workout. So, add more intensity or add more duration to get you to those goals on the way. I think they’re on the right track. I think if you were to look forward into running, other things like that, we’ll probably definitely see that. It’s getting very, very close. Certainly, there are plenty of, I don’t want to say automated coaching, because that sounds ...
It’s almost like micro-coaching.
Lot of the companies will say, “Well, we got coaching plans and stuff,” but it’s all pre-canned stuff. It’s just simply they’re picking an end date. They’re picking intensity level and then they’re spewing out pre-canned stuff. It’s not actually looking at your stress levels or fatigue levels and stuff every day like a normal coach might do. If you have a running coach or something or a triathlon coach, if it’s a good one, they will give you that feedback back and say, “Oh, you’re exhausted today? You’re traveling? Let me adjust your schedule accordingly,” which most apps out there don’t do. They just simply say, “Soldier on.”
Next question is from Marco Donjuan — great name — "You should do a versus video," he says. Thank you, Marco, it’s been a little while since I’ve done a versus video. I might have to revive that question now. “What will be the next big thing for sport watches? After refined OHR (optical heart rate), what’s next?”
Your versus videos are great, by the way.
I can’t imagine how much time it would take.
We’ve gotten them down to a science, my twin and I. We actually haven’t done one now since late last year, so we’re waiting for the right moment. We got some new video stuff coming soon. Thank you, though, I really appreciate it.
So, next big thing. I think it gets back to some of the automated coaching stuff. I think we’re seeing a lot of focus by a lot of companies, but I don’t know how others on using HRV, so heart rate variability data and our intervals to start looking at what your body is doing under the covers and trying to give you suggestions on how to improve your day-to-day life, your workouts, and that’s really the direction to go. Certainly, there is a little bit of voodoo magic when it comes to HRV data. It’s one of those things that I can look at HRV data from four different straps at once and get totally different answers, which can really matter, because the nuances of HRV data are so big that a tiny change is actually a huge change on the recommendation side.
Still, I think they’re trending the right away. What Garmin just released this week with the new Vivosmart 3 is actually impressive on the stress-tracking front. I mean, to try that out and go, “Wow, it’s actually nailing my stress levels throughout the day,” and they’re measuring on a per-second basis basically, constantly. Then I look at the end of the day and go, “Dang, that it actually mirrored what my stress level was throughout day is impressive.” Then to figure out how they could then integrate that within coaching, for example, to look at that and go just like, again, a coach would say, “You had an incredibly stressful two days at work. Why don’t you just take the day off” sort of thing.
So, it’s stress, you’re actually referring to day-to-day stress, not training-load stress.
Day-to-day stress. Not training-load stress. So, not that.
Okay. Isn’t at some level that sort subjective as well?
I mean, you could look back and say, “Oh, I remember I was stressed because I was in a heated phone call with ...” I was going to say your boss, but you’re your own boss, or whatever it might be during that time period. Then you look at your spikes and heart rate and you’re thinking, “Okay, that must be accurate,” but it’s really hard to know.
It’s tough to know. It’s something you have to look at each day and go, “Was that accurate or not?” And kind of make those judgment calls. Then does it matter too? So, I think the example this weekend, my highest stress point was actually sitting in traffic. We were late to a friend’s birthday, a long time late. The traffic was all closed down for, ironically, the Paris Marathon. So, we spent 50 minutes going somewhere, should’ve taken us 10. To see that stress level and go, “Okay, yes, it was super stressful according to my watch for that period of time,” but did that actually have an impact on my day? Then at the end of it, the Garmin site says, no, it didn’t. My day was considered “calm.”
So, it’s tough to be at a balance and to figure out is that useful guidance or non-useful guidance? I think they’re on the right track. It’s just going to take time to figure out how to turn what is general lifestyle stress into training stress, because they’re two different things. For a lot of people, to relieve that lifestyle stress, you go out and train. People go out for a run to wash away that ... So, to be able to find the balance to say, “Is that training going to help or hurt you from an overall fatigue standpoint?”
The Holy Grail for a lot of these companies is really figuring out a way to take in all this data. It still feels like we’re in the very earliest days of all this massive data gathering.
So much, too.
There’s not one company that has quite figured out the right balance between privacy and giving up data that you need, providing recommendations that feel personal and real-time and all of that. Doing everything accurately ... I mean, some companies seem to do well with optical heart rate, but then you wonder about the accuracy of sleep tracking. Obviously, sleep plays an important role. It’s all kind of moving that way. It’s definitely not there yet. We’re not there yet.
It’s all compartmentalized right now. You capture a ton of data and that maybe gives you a summary the next day or something, but it’s not real time, which I think is the changing point. Right now, you may get your Fitbit or Garmin or whatever summary at the end of the day that’s like, “Good job. You did more jobs,” or, “Good job. This is more than your average,” or tries to add some sort of like pseudo-big-data twist on it like, “Oh, this is more than most people of this gender.” And it’s like, “Okay, great, but what does that actually tell me?” versus, “I want a watch to tell me at, like, 4:00, ’cause I’m getting ready to go home,” or whatever, to say, “Hey, this day was a pretty calm day. Let’s up your run from this to this.”
Right. Saying, “Oh, you’re better than 35 percent of females age 30 to 39,” is not big data.
No, it’s not.
It’s not sophisticated AI.
It’s like everyone wants to use AI and big data as their buzzwords for everything, right?
It’s not like, “Do something legit with that. Find a way to make use of all data.” I think that’s where all these companies are really failing in terms of not just give me a cute infographic, but find a way to look up my trending over time and figure out what I’m doing and how can I make it better?
Right. Okay. So, Marco, that’s going to be the next big thing, but we’re not there yet. The next question is from PJ Wascher, who asks, “Is there such a thing as too many races? Does he have a certain number of races he targets to do each year?” What’s your goal each year?
I don’t have a certain number.
Just one goal.
There’s definitely too many races. If you do too many races, you’re not going to actually train. You’re just recovering from races. I know some folks that will try to do one a weekend or whatever and then the peak of the season, I think, if you get to the season, that’s fun just to do races for the sake of races. If you’re talking the fall of ... If you’re a triathlete, for example, that season generally ends around September. Then sometimes depending on where you live in the world, if you’re in a warmer place, you can get that in October and maybe in early November to do that. People just go out and have fun and race sprints or tris or whatever for a couple weekends in a row. That’s great.
I think if you’re legitimately trying to train for an event and trying to PR or have your personal record of that event, then for me, it’s once a month. It’s kind of end season, and you got to decide what that is. I think, for me, starting in May or April, depending on where you live in the world, again, from a temperature standpoint, for triathlon, but whereas running for winter is perfectly fine too. A lot of people do races, running-wise, throughout the winter. I wouldn’t necessarily say I want to have 12 races a year. I think that’s probably a lot. I think you want to have a legit training block that you’re focused on training. You want to have races to know what racing’s like.
Right. Okay. So, one a month, and yes, it’s possible to do too many. I mean, one a month is ... You’re saying you wouldn’t want to do 12 a year?
I would not want to do 12 a year, but I think if you’re in season ...
But you could.
In season, one a month. In the triathlon world, you might start now this time of year in April and do a short one, next month do a ... You could do a sprint this month. It’s kind of a ... Just work out the kinks of your equipment this year and all that kind of stuff. Then in May, you might do an Olympic. Then if you want to continue on, if you were training for an Iron Man that was in the summer, you would do a half Iron in June or July and then finally an Iron Man in August. The same is true of racing a marathon. If you had a marathon in, say, October, you might do a half marathon in September. You would probably do some 10Ks throughout the summer, that kind of thing, to ... You want them to align with your training progression, your training plan.
You don’t want the race to take away from your training plan too much. That should just fit in there nicely as a good kind of thing along the way.
Something that keeps you going, that keeps you motivated.
This question is from BigGuyRunning. I think he’s a swimmer. “Paris, great city. What made you choose that? Also, tech test that got you the most stares, shaking my heads or just simply embarrassing?” That’s a good question. So, why’d you end up in Paris? What was your most embarrassing test?
The company I was working for at the time, that was ... They kind of gave me the choice. I could live really anywhere within MES, so, Europe, Middle East or Africa. So, we narrowed it down to Paris and Cape Town, South Africa. I just had be near a big airport. That was the only requirement for the job. It was just near a big airport and willingness to travel. The only problem with Cape Town for me was that every week started with an eight-hour flight. It would be back up to the Middle East, or to Europe. There’d be occasional times in South Africa, but there wasn’t a lot of big data center activity like 10,000 seats or 10,000 service-type activity in South Africa. So, Paris kind of won.
We love it from a food standpoint. It’s got a great food scene, a cultural scene, and I didn’t speak a single word of French when I moved there, but it was all good. We enjoy it there. It’s nice to be at such a walkable city to just go anywhere you want to go and walk and ride around. It’s really nice.
The next question was, “What was the tech test that got you the most stares?”
I think there was two different ones. One we mentioned earlier with all the bike computers, so going in the Alps with 14 bike computers got me a lot of stares. I think probably the most was actually a heads-up display from Recon Instruments, the Recon Jet, which is a sport-focused one. Running that around at the Louvre in Paris, so many stares. People just looking. There were two of us running at a time. One of the company guys, and he ... I was just taking him on the run throughout the city and testing this out for the first time running. It’s not like Google Glass style. You don’t notice it. Google Glass, you don’t notice if you’re a little ways away from the person. With this, you definitely noticed it. People were looking at you at this huge heads-up display in your face and every ... We ran right around the pyramid of the Louvre there.
Every single person was looking at us. So, that was definitely the most ... It wouldn’t matter if it was the tourists in that area or French people ... Even worse. It was just like, “What are you doing?”
If you were in San Francisco, you would’ve been right at home. People would’ve been like, “Oh hello. We welcome you.”
Totally fine. That was one of those days that I would just say ... My wife and I joke, “We’re gonna be American that day,” right? That was ...
Some days, I’m like, “Okay, I’m gonna dress more ...” whatever you want to call it, to dress nicer, I guess. We come back here, people are like, “Huh? Why are you guys dressed up so nice?” Today, by the way, is not that day. Today I’m in T-shirt and jeans. I’m going American today, but that’s definitely a day of just, “I don’t care.” I’m just dressing like an American.
And you have video of that on your site, right?
I do, yeah.
Recon Jet, yeah.
Okay, so, everyone should go check that out, so they could see pictures of Ray wearing the goofy headset.
I have another question for you actually. I don’t think we have any more reader questions, so I’m going to steal this one. I mentioned privacy earlier. Are you ever worried about your health data, all of your health data being in multiple clouds, apps and services, considering how much you test this stuff?
Not too much for me. I think I’m kind of at the point where if they want to know my heart rate, then shrug. I get why people are worried about it. I get there’s lots of stuff. I think where it gets sketchier, so let me try ... I’m trying to ... How to phrase this carefully. There was a company recently that I’m working on a review for ... Not for, but about.
And you find out they have access to your data?
In a nutshell.
Because they reference something and you’re like, “How would you know that unless you were in my account?” That’s happened to me before.
Even worse, actually. I don’t mind companies that I’m writing a review on looking at my data and saying, “Hey, there’s something wrong we’re seeing ...” I’m fine with that. I don’t think it’s normal for a normal consumer, but we have a relationship where they’re ... I’ve given them the okay to let me know what’s wrong and I’m fine with that. In this case, this company on the privacy agreement says that they’re not selling their data and all those kind of stuff, and they are. That’s one of those things where … and they’re selling in a really unique way that I’ve never seen before. It’s not a bad way. If they were upfront about it, they were doing something where you bought their product and then they would tell the retailer your usage of that product, so that that retailer could then pitch you more products to go after that product.
So, if you use this one product, you can then go buy another one, or new clothes or new running shoes, whatever you want, because you had run X number of miles or something like that. So, you sat there and went, “Okay, that’s an interesting business proposition that they have to offer that to a retailer” and all that kind of stuff. If they want to do that where Amazon automatically sent me a new pair of running shoes after 500 miles, because it knows that I need those new pair of running shoes, that’s fine, but I should know about that. I should know that that’s happening behind the scenes. That should be an opt-in thing, not a “it’s happening there,” especially since the privacy agreement said it wasn’t happening, their FAQ said it wasn’t happening, and then I get a little birdie email from a retailer saying, “Hey, do you know this is going on?”
So, you found out because that happened or because you read it somewhere in fine print?
I found out because a retailer emailed me on the side saying, “Hey, just so you know, they’re actually pitching sales of data.”
They want to sell your data to the retailer. The retailer in turn comes back and gets access to your actual data, your legit data with all your personal information and all that kind of stuff. To me, that crosses the line in terms of, A) if your agreements, all those kind of stuff ... And in the fine print, I went through the fine print in detail, say that you don’t do that. Then you do show the data and not just like blanket share with your name and contact information and with the intent and purpose to sell you things. To me, that’s crossing a huge line. No matter how cool that concept is ... If you want to execute a business concept, then great, but you need to be upfront with people about it.
The thing is in that particular scenario, I would actually be fine with that. If Amazon wanted to ship me a new pair of running shoes every 500 miles, because that’s when running shoes need to be replaced, then that’s great. That’d be awesome. It just automatically knows in an Alexa or Siri kind of way, but I need to be in control of that. So, that’s something that annoys me a lot and I’ve got an upcoming review about that.
So, you are going to write about it?
Oh yeah, yeah.
And you’re going to name the company?
Absolutely, yeah. I’ve certainly confronted the company about it and they’ve given me some details on what they are and aren’t doing, but ...
Are they quickly changing their language?
And you’re taking screen grabs all along the way?
Absolutely, absolutely. I think it’s tough, because this is a startup company of sorts. I don’t want to say this will kill them, because they’re offering an incredibly compelling product at an incredibly compelling price point, but they just need to be upfront about it. So, that’s something that, to me, annoys me to no end.
On the flip side, if a company like Fitbit or someone else wants to look at my data not from a P&L standpoint but from looking at trends and stuff like that, I’m generally all right with that. I’m less all right if they’re selling my name attached to my data, though I think, I guess with all the hacking and stuff like that, that happened, some hacks just happen these days, I just presume my data in a cloud-type scenario is generally insecure.
Right. I tend to be okay with sending companies screen grabs of my experiences if I say, “Oh, you know, I ran this number of miles and your tracker in there for your app is only showing that I ran this number of miles or at this pace,” or for whatever reason the data isn’t syncing properly. All of that, I am 100 percent fine. Sending a series of screen grabs is generally what I do, but I don’t like to give the company a pass to get into ... They’ll say, “Oh, can we help you troubleshoot? Tell us what email’s associated with your account. We’re gonna dig into your account and we’re gonna look into this,” and I just say, “No,” because I don’t want companies having access to just go do things in my account.
I also feel like, especially with startups and less established companies, but more with startups, a lot of times their products basically ship when they’re in beta, and they just don’t work well or there’s something funky going on and they really need a firmware update or whatever it might be. Sometimes they’ll try to say, “Well, it’s because you’re doing this or it’s because you’re doing this.” I’m like, “Listen, it’s not ... Your thing’s not working properly. And no amount of me sharing my personal data with you is going to change that.”
“It’s only gonna sort of give you the ability to point out areas where I ...” I just stick to my policy.
You get into a circle going down the drain sort of thing, that’s a finger pointing back and forth and it’s like, “No, it just simply doesn’t work in this ...”
“There’s no way around it.”
Right. If I show you the same exact experience that hundreds of other consumers are having in their app and mine looks like theirs, that’s all the data you need from me.
That’s all you need to know.
I think you want to get to the point where you can validate that it’s not you that’s at fault or something.
It’s not just a stupid Ray thing or a stupid Lauren thing where you’re like, “Oh, I did this the wrong way,” right?
Because there’s nothing that frustrates me more than seeing a journalist publish something on a site that’s just factually incorrect. Not like an innocent mistake, but they use the product the wrong way. So, the product was horrible and they’re like, “No, you did it wrong,” or, “That’s not ... You just fundamentally did it wrong.” So, that’s something that it’s a really tough balance.
Absolutely. Okay. So, what’s next for you with DC Rainmaker? What’s your big vision?
I don’t have a big vision. I don’t know. It’s funny. A lot of people ask me like, “Oh, what’s the big plan?” I’m like, “Aside from the New York Times buying it for 19 million — 18.5 is still an option, by the way — I don’t have a big ...” My wife and I were talking about it and then it’s like, “Yes, I could go and hire people and make it bigger, maybe make that a $20 million property,” so that sort of thing, but I don’t ... It’s not really what I want. I got to the point where I enjoy that ... I run almost all of it now by myself and it’s something that I have complete control over. I’m not dealing with employees and stuff like that. I have people that I need, like the grammar guy and stuff like that, but I don’t have to think about it from a day-to-day standpoint, like in terms of a day-to-day stand ... I don’t know what the right word is.
I don’t have to overthink it as something that drags on me from a business perspective. I enjoy it being about my life and being about the gear test and it works out. I don’t need to make millions of dollars from it, unless again $20 million comes around, but it’s one of those ... I’m just enjoying the way it is. I was listening to, I think, Timothy Ferriss or something recently and they were talking to some guest about that. A lot of people in that startup phase where they ... Especially individuals that become successful by themselves like a Casey Neistat or whatever, kind of what I’m doing where you to the point where it’s all about trying to be bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger.
And at some point, you stop along the way and you realize you no longer have control of whatever you’ve done or you’re just not enjoying life anymore because you’re spending so much time appeasing everyone else, or trying to get bigger and bigger and bigger, to what end? So, I’m good with where I am right now. It’s not bad.
All right. Not that I would ever want this to happen, but what happens if you ever get injured or need to take a serious break? I mean, how would you keep the testing going? How would you keep the site going?
I don’t know. It’s tough. That’s a legit concern. In some ways, I’m no different than a pro athlete. If I get injured, that really slows things down a lot or hurts things, especially if it’s for a long period of time. I think that’s kind of ... you’ve seen some of my focus on different areas of sports tech, so whether it be action cameras or stuff like that, that may not necessarily need me to be running every day or even like with focusing on drones and stuff like that lately in a sports way, not in a general fly a drone around take pictures way, but in a how does a drone follow a person autonomously? And does that work well from a sporting standpoint.
So, kind of diversifying things and understanding that there will be a time ... I’ve been really lucky that I haven’t gotten injured, but I’m sure there’ll be a time and a date where I do get injured and can’t do testing for a period of time. So, I have to make sure the content on the site can work around that.
Looks like you’ll have to contract some people to do some running. Or you have to clone yourself. That technology might be coming up.
Definitely. It should be tomorrow, I think.
Well, Ray, it’s been amazing to have you in studio. I’m glad you’re here in San Francisco and we were able to make this work.
And a great lot of fun.
For those of you who have not been to Ray’s site, I highly recommend that you go visit it. It is DCRainmaker.com. Is that correct?
And you’re on Twitter?
I’m on Twitter and we actually have a podcast as well.
What’s your podcast called?
The DC Rainmaker Podcast. It’s very complicatedly named, but it’s just basically like how we did the last half an hour. It was just tech questions. It was purely focused to have people with sports-tech gadget questions call in and essentially try to stump me. It’s kind of fun.
I’m sure the questions you get on that podcast are much more granular than the ones we’ve covered.
They are incredibly granular, but they’re all over the map. It’s sort of like these. They’re all over the map and sometimes they’re incredibly granular, like, just amazingly deep in terms of well thought out ... It’s cool. There’s some people that have really thought about stuff. Again, it ranges. A large audience is people that are just trying to train for a 5K and — not in a bad way, that’s what they’re focused on, as a 5K versus, again, Olympians, or whatever else that are trying to, like, how do you push the boundaries of this? Or a pro team? Or something like that? How do you do something really off the edge?
Cool. You can check that out on iTunes, all the usual suspects?
All the usual, yep.
All right. I don’t know about you, but this has been a really fun episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. Kara, we missed you. Ray, thanks again for coming, by.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.