April 2, 2016
[0:13.8] Kimera Koffee
[1:40] FitLife Green Juice
[4:26] Ray Maker
[9:35] Why Ray lives in Paris
[10:39] Craziest thing Ray has done to test a device
[12:24] Waterproofing Test Chamber and Waterproof Testing
[13:36] When Ray tested the Apple Watch
[14:47] How Ray takes a living through testing
[16:36] Coolest items Ray has tested
[20:14] Ray's recommended piece of technology
[22:42] Ray's Go-To Watch
[24:42] Difference between watch brands
[28:40] Are some of the devices really groundbreaking technology?
[33:06] Does Ray unplug every now and then
[34:12] The Software Ray uses to track his data
[36:16] What Ray uses to track sleep
[41:28] Effects of being tied down to these electronic devices
[43:18] Ray's favorite spots around the world
[45:05] Ray's recommended racing Hot Spot
[46:47] Next Biggest Trend in Athlete Quantification
[50:33] Why DC Rainmaker
[54:19.4] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield. Strap on your propeller hats because in today's episode, we're gonna take a deep dive into self-qualification technology and the guy who has tested just about every device on the face of the planet.
But first, I wanted to tell you about a nice little beverage that turbo charges my brain every single morning. It's got a bunch of all-natural amino acids in it that you'd usually find in protein rich foods like fish, and eggs, and meat, but that is now in, yes, coffee. So this stuff is called the Kimera Koffee, K-I-M-E-R-A-K-O-F-F-E-E, and I have brewed it a variety of different ways, but from my own personal experience, having self-experimented with this stuff for a while, I would say don't use a paper filter. A paper filter will actually get rid of what are called the cafestols and the kahweols that you'll find in coffee that act differently than caffeine and that often get filtered out by paper filters. So instead, I would use a percolator without a paper filter to make this type of coffee, or a French press, or even like an AeroPress, or something like that, or you could even just do Cowboy Coffee and dump a bunch in a cast-iron skillet and roast it over the campfire. Either way, it's got alpha-GPC, taurine, L-theanine, DMAE, a bunch of very cool compounds that turn your brain into overdrive. And you can get this stuff at Kimera Koffee, that's K-I-M-E-R-A-K-O-F-F-E-E, kimerakoffee.com, use code Ben, and it gets you 10% off.
And while we're talking about fun little beverages that supercharge your life, you should also check out something else. It's green juice that's been infused with coconut and ashwagandha. Now ashwagandha has some pretty cool research behind it. Specifically, it's an adaptogen, and that means that it can help to increase testosterone and also help to decrease cortisol. Now, this is the only supplement, I kid you not, in my entire pantry that my wife actually steals and uses. She takes a scoop and she puts it into a smoothie, she stirs into a glass of water. For some reason she likes it, and believe me, that says a lot if she actually likes something that is a green powder. So, anyways, you too can try out this green juice powder from FitLife. The way that you do it and save, is you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/fitlife, that's bengreenfieldfitness.com/fitlife, and discount code Ben gets you 20% off. 20% off with discount code Ben.
So that being said, let's jump into today's podcast with DC Rainmaker.
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“I think it's probably the biggest challenge we have is that a lot of these devices gather data and gather metrics, but you have to really kinda step back and go, ‘Is this data useful for training or racing? Or is it just noise?' And that's the biggest thing that I've been trying to kinda focus on, a lot of these companies coming out with new metrics. Are they marketing metrics? Or are they something you can truly use to get faster?” “I've only got so many runs or so many rides in a given week or a given day, right, because the human body can reduce so much. And so, a lot of that testing time is really more collecting data, than it is watching every last second on the watch itself.”
He’s an expert in human performance and nutrition, voted America’s top personal trainer and one of the globe’s most influential people in health and fitness. His show provides you with everything you need to optimize physical and mental performance. He is Ben Greenfield. “Power, speed, mobility, balance – whatever it is for you that’s the natural movement, get out there! When you look at all the studies done… studies that have shown the greatest efficacy…” All the information you need in one place, right here, right now, on the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast.
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield, and I want you to meet my friend Ray Maker. You may have been to his website before, his website is dcrainmaker.com. And on that site, Ray single-handedly tests reviews and reports on just about every self-quantification device on the face of the planet. Stuff from established players like Garmin, and Polar, and Timex, and also more French products from companies like Strava, and Zwift, and Stages Cycling, and other brands that really attract the attention of both the tech world, and the bike market, and the triathlon industry, and the biohacking industry, and beyond. And a lot of times, he's testing prototypes months before a product is brought to the market. Now he kinda operates beneath the radar of the traditional kinda brick and mortar, ink-on-paper side of the sporting tech world, but his site is shockingly the 6th most popular bicycling website on the face of the planet. He's been listed by Runner's World as one of the 50 Most Influential People In Running, and he's really one of the world’s go-to resources when it comes to how these self-quantification devices and fitness tracking devices really work. Or, as the case may be, don't.
And so, Ray is also a triathlete, he's a runner. And despite operating DC Rainmaker, he still works full time in the IT industry. And even though he's from America, he actually is on the call with me now, and lives in Paris, France with his wife. And he's also a global adventurer. We'll talk a little bit about that today as well, but his far-flung trips are part of the appeal of his website, and he reports not just on technology, but also on his adventures running, and biking, and swimming around the globe. So really a man after my own heart, in that sense. He puts the gadgets that he tests or some pretty rigorous evaluations if you check out his website, and reports on nitty-gritty details, and flaws, and benefits, and pros, and cons, and I've seen him do things like mount multiple power meters on his bike, or wear several heart rate monitors at once, and he has some pretty intricate, multi-thousand word reports, and reviews, and photographs on every single device that he tests. So, if you are into fitness tech, self-qualification, tracking, swimming biking, running, just about anything else, you're gonna really dig today's episode. So, Ray, welcome to the show.
Ray: Thanks for having me. Good to chat with you again.
Ben: Yeah! It's been a little while since we hung out way back in 2012. I don't know if you remember this, but you and I went down to cover the Half Ironman, Texas where Lance Armstrong was racing, and this was back when Lance Armstrong first getting into a triathlon, and I remember you and I went for a run along the Gulf. And I think you were even testing out some kind of a brand new fancy heart rate monitor as we were running, and we got a chance to spend some time together. And back then you were racing triathlons, you were reviewing heart rate monitors, and power meters, and stride rate counters, and beyond, and then you are up and moved to France. So what's kinda changed in the past few years for you as far as where you're at and what you do?
Ray: Yeah. Things have kinda just gotten bigger, I guess, in terms of, I think a few years ago they were definitely kind of hitting their stride, but now it's just a lot going on in the marketplace. A lot of companies that weren't used to be sport technology companies like the Apples and Microsoft's of the world that now are. So that's adding more cool things for me to check out. And then me, personally, I've moved to Paris about almost four years ago now for work, and so I did that back a number years ago, I guess four years, and I've been enjoying life here in France and kind of exploring Europe. Also exploring the rest of the world, and kind of seeing the tri and running scene here in Europe, just through a different lens than what you do in the US.
Ben: Are you also racing or running still in any triathlons, or marathons, or anything like that?
Ray: Yeah, I've got some triathlons. I actually got one coming up this weekend here. It's kind of the beginning of the season, so they've got a bit of an indoor. Gonna split indoor, outdoor triathlon, still a bit chilly, but then coming into April, May, and June, certainly got some triathlon races there and I'll throw a couple more short distance runs, and then we'll see what the end of the year holds. It's sort of nice ‘cause thinking that in the US, you really have to nail down your race calendar a lot earlier in the season, right. You gotta kinda like decide almost a year in advance, it feels like for a lot of popular races. Whereas, here, especially in the triathlon scene, I can still sign up for races. Like I got on my browser tab, hoping to sign up for a race in mid May still. That's a popular race, but doesn't like get as crazy sold-out, not expensive. I mean, it's an Olympic-distance race and I think it's like 45 bucks. Not much compared to US.
Ben: I gotta move to Paris. I thought Paris was expensive. Sounds dirt cheap.
Ray: Everything else is really expensive, so it kind of ties. You gotta do a lot of races to make up for it.
Ben: Yeah. The cost of French bread kinda offsets the cost of your triathlon registrations. So why do you live in Paris? You know, working in the IT industry, is that just a job opportunity that you wound up jumping at?
Ray: Yes. I moved over here for work. So the company at the time relocated me to France. I basically was able to choose anywhere I wanted to, as long as it was near a bigger port. So we kinda narrowed down a couple spots, and so my work travel at the time was basically every single week, I was going somewhere. But I actually finally broke free of that this past fall. So, I'm now doing the blog full-time.
Ben: Oh really?
Ray: Yeah! It's a bit of a shift, but yeah, it's been a fun journey. I loved my day job in the IT world. It was awesome. I mean, there's very few people that get to fly to New Zealand one week, and Brazil the next, and that be totally normal, but I just couldn't do both at one time. Like the blog was a full-time job, and I had a full-time job as an IT person, and so it was nice to find some balance there.
Ben: Well, like I mentioned, I've seen you do things like put a whole bunch of power meters on a bike, I've seen you wear multiple heart rate monitors at once, and you write some pretty entertaining articles on your site about all this stuff, but give people an idea in terms of what you do. What's the craziest rigor that you've ever put some device that you got, or series of devices, through? What's the craziest thing you've ever done with one of these devices that you test?
Ray: I think it probably would go between some of the waterproofing tests I've done. So in terms of the Apple Watch which is a good example, Apple Watch doesn't claim to be waterproof, but I still went ahead and I have a waterproofing chamber where I can go ahead and put it in. So I put that in to 40 meters deep, I had it taken off of a high dive platform 10 meters high, went swimming with it for quite some ways, and so that sort of thing is just going beyond the specs to see like where that wrecking point is. In that case, that device survived all those tests.
Ben: Really? But they don't advertise it as a waterproof watch, right?
Ray: No, not at all. In fact, a couple of developers had submitted a swimming app for it, and Apple rejected the swimming app because they were afraid people would use it for that purpose, an unintended purpose. So that's like on the waterproofing side, but even just for power meters, like you mentioned multiple power meters, so on my bikes, most of the time I'm running four to five power meters when I'm comparing new products 'cause if you’re on two power meters, the new product plus an old product, you don't actually know which product is right, you just know that one of them is off, but you don't, you can't definitively say this one's good or bad. ‘Cause sometimes old products have trusted brands can have a bad day in the power meter world. So by doing two, three, four additional products, I can kind of make a picture and say, “Well, it's more likely that this new product is good or it's got issues in these certain areas.”
Ben: What's a waterproofing test chamber? How do you waterproof test a device like this?
Ray: So it's a pressurized chamber, it's actually from a company out of Vancouver that does scuba gear. And so, what they've done is they created a test chamber that allowed them to validate some of their scuba camera equipment afterwards. So it kinda looks like a small aquarium, basically, and then the aquarium allows you to go ahead and put a device in there, and I have an automated computer program that will go ahead and specify different levels of depth. So I can say it's 5 meters, or 20 meters, or 50 meters deep, then I can tell it a time. So I usually just kind of repeat test over and over again to where I'll go and bring that device down to 50 meters, and then bring it back up to the surface, and repeat it a number of times.
Ben: That's pretty cool. So it's a chamber? So you don't actually have to take it down that low? You can just simulate it in the chamber?
Ray: Yep, it’s got water and a lot of jazz in there, it's just that I don't have to go in there. There's actually a dive place, I believe, I'm trying to think of how deep it is, 30 or 40 meters deep, up in Brussels only about an hour and a half away on the train that actually is a legitimate dive. Like an indoor pool, but it's super deep, designed for purely just diving and stuff. I thought about bringing the stuff up there, but this is way more convenient.
Ben: Interesting. So how deep can an Apple Watch go?
Ray: I brought it down to 40 meters repeatedly without any problems. I haven't brought it down to see what the breaking point is, just 'cause I only have a few of them that I bought, and I'm willing to go so far, but eventually you're like, “Nah. Not gonna break it just for the sake of breaking it.”
Ben: So Apple doesn't send you watches to test? So you just had to go out and buy 'em and test them?
Ray: Yeah. So different companies send me things to try out, but I always send them back afterwards. So in this case with the Apple Watch, I bought the units myself, and so that's just some things I buy myself, some things companies send me to test for a while. But then once I'm done with them, kind of my thing is I send them back to the companies. So I don't keep anything.
Ben: But you don't have to do that? They don't require that you send it back?
Ray: No, virtually none would. But I think it's…
Ben: You could just ebay 'em.
Ray: I thought about that but, yeah. Yeah. I think for me, like it's one of those things where I wanna show that I'm not taking this device from a company and saying, “Ah, it's awesome,” because it's free for me, right?
Ray: So this way, I can kinda show that I don't have a dog in that fight from the standpoint of whether or not you like the device. There's ways that you can support the sites, but…
Ben: That's admirable. I mean obviously you're not working in IT anymore, so how do you actually make money reviewing devices if you're sending them back?
Ray: So, basically there's three kinds of ways. One is generate some revenue from ads, but it's actually a fairly small amount because, in addition to sending devices back, I block all the companies that I review from advertising on my site. So, like Garmin, for example, can't advertise on my site. So there's a little bit from ads, most of it's from what's called affiliate sales. So if you like a product, you can go on Amazon and buy the product, or you can go on to a company called Clever Training and buy the product there as well. I don't actually particularly care what you buy from any of those places.
Ben: What you call it? Clever Training?
Ray: Yep. Clever Training, and then readers get a 10% discount as well. So that's definitely an incentive for folks if they want to buy through that.
Ben: Okay. And then you get kickback from that, and that helps you to pay for the site?
Ray: Yup. But I don't do like affiliates directly with the companies themselves, I wouldn't do affiliate with Garmin, for example, because I don't, I wanna be out of makers, so that if you can choose whatever product you want and the commission's basically the same to me. So, if you want to go and buy a giant pile of toilet paper, I'm totally cool with that because it's the same commission. So it doesn't really matter to me what you buy. As long as you support the site, then I'm happy.
Ben: So somebody could, for example, read about like let's say, a Timex Run Trainer on your site. They'd click, and they go to Amazon, and then even if they don't buy a Timex Trainer but they wind up buying, like you say, toilet paper, you'd still make a little bit of money?
Ray: Yup. Exactly. So that's a lot of loyal readers will go ahead and they'll just simply, there's a big Amazon logo on the right-hand side. Anytime they go to make a purchase, they'll just click the Amazon logo, it goes off to Amazon, and then from there, it doesn't cost them anything. It's literally just one single click, and they'll commission back whatever.
Ben: The wonders of the internet. We now have thousands of listeners who can quit their jobs. Amazing. Okay, so we know the craziest rigor you've ever put a device through is this waterproofing potential of an Apple Watch, but what about the coolest piece of self-quantification technology you've had the opportunity to use? I mean, obviously, you get some prototypes long before they get released to the general public. So maybe you've got something on hand right now that we haven't seen? Or maybe there's something in the past that you've tried that never got released? But what would you say was the most intriguing thing you've ever had a chance to test?
Ray: I think it's a combination of two things. One, I think just sort of the action cameras in general, like a Go Pro, and I think we all take that for granted, right. The ability for us to just have a little camera with us now, but I think we've forgotten how easy and cool it is to take video of you doing cool stuff, right. And that's something that, yeah, it's neat to know my heart rate and all that jazz when I'm running down the street, but I think it's cool to be able to share what I'm doing with my friends, my family, and to do what no matter where I am, whether it's under water, or jumping out of an airplane, or anything, I can do that. And so, to me, that's pretty cool.
I think that next iteration is the ability for you to do that with drones involved as well, right. So you can go ahead and you can have an action camera that follows you automatically. And so I've been testing some stuff from a company called AirDog. That's pretty cool. GoPro's got one coming out…
Ben: What's it called? AirDog?
Ray: AirDog? Yep.
Ben: What do they do?
Ray: So it's a drone that will follow you as you do sports action. So you can go ahead and you can be skiing, or cycling, or running, and this thing will just simply follow along, and you can do different maneuvers that'll basically kinda make cinematic shots, if you will, and you can stitch these together and make a video afterwards. So it's like having your own personal videographer, except that it's in the air. So I did like a really cool video skiing in the Alps last month and had this thing following down just with beautiful pristine powder, and here's us just up there in different heights and whatnot. Really cool. And that technology's still emerging. There's lots of both technical as well as regulatory hurdles to some of that, but it's getting there and it's gonna be super cool.
Ben: How does it know? How does the AirDog drone know to follow you and not somebody else?
Ray: So I have, in my case, a small little transponder, basically, that I put on my jacket. So it's about the size of a deck of cards, and it goes ahead and follows that. So that basically sends my position to the drone in the air, and it sends basically my altitude as well. And so it can track my altitude going up or down, so as I descend it follows me, if I go up, it follows me. Very, very cool. There's some companies, like DJI, which is a huge player in the larger consumer drone market that has follow-me technology that will follow you as a person. So it literally sees you as an image and tries to follow you. Based on what we've seen so far, that's not quite super mature.
Ben: How would it know it's you? Is it looking at your retinal scan or something like that or…?
Ray: No. It's trying to track you as just a human-looking object.
Ray: But it's based on what we've seen so far in the tests, I'm waiting for mine to come later this week, but what I've seen thus far is that it's still pretty rough. It's kind of easily loses track of things but that's definitely the future. I mean, you got to start somewhere, and so in this case they're starting there. And then obstacle avoidance is that next piece in the case of the AirDog, it'll happily crash into a tree if that tree is there. So you need to be aware of that and, in my case, hyper aware that you're not gonna run into a tree, or a cliff, or anything else. It will avoid the ground. So it'll detect the ground and keep it from hitting in most cases.
Ben: Yeah. Still though, there are some helicopter parents out there right now who are drooling, thinking about putting that little tracker in their kid's backpack and having a drone follow them to school. Or party.
Ray: I'd imagine that.
Ben: Amazing. So, in terms of the technology that you've actually had a chance to review on your site, and by the way if you're listening in as Ray and I talk, I'll link to his site and I'll link to a lot of these little things that we talk about if you just go to begreenfieldfitness.com/rainmaker. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/rainmaker. Just like it sounds. You'll be able to access the show notes. But Ray, I'm curious what your most highly-recommended piece of technology is, 'cause I imagine you get a lot of inquiries from your website from fitness enthusiast or triathletes. What do you find yourself recommending quite frequently?
Ray: I think it depends a little bit on what people want, right. So if you're coming for a cycling unit, I'd recommend one thing versus a running watch, something else, or an action camera, something else. So I cover so many topic areas that it's sort of all over the place. I think probably the most popular would be something like the Garmin Forerunner 230, or 235 if you want an optical heart rate in it. And those are basically running watches that can do a bit more than running now. So they track your heart for hours a day, in the case of the Forerunner 235, an activity tracker, smart watch. That's sort of that like $250, middle of the road, running watch, that GPS watch that is really appealing to a lot of folks, and just a well made product.
Ben: What is about Garmin that would make it superior to other GPS units? Do they have some kind of proprietary technology?
Ray: I think it's their entire ecosystem. I think that's something that, you know, we've had, there's lots of competitors out there, whether it be Polar, Suunto, or Timex to a degree. I think Garmin has the most clean and easy to use ecosystem in a lot of cases they have the most features. So, Polar has a decent website, it's not as detailed as Garmin's. Polar makes some good products, especially in that mid-range. Not as much in the high-end, but the mid-range they're pretty solid. And Suunto makes some great high-end products for example, but I think Garmin tends to be able to find that middle of the road, as well as the high-end, depending on the products they have, and does a really good job of having lots of features.
I think if you look back at any product development cycle, it's the companies that have been there for 10 years plus, that have that history or knowledge of all those little features. You think about all the little things that you want in a watch, and if a new company comes into that marketplace, they have to start from zero, right. And so they have to have the basics working, and then they have to figure all those edge cases that consumers have yelled at them about for years, and years, and years.
Ray: And so I think that just takes time.
Ben: Interesting. So do you have like specific watches that are just like your go-to watches that you wear? Or are you just constantly wearing something new and different, depending what you happen to be testing?
Ray: A little bit of both. I think on the cycling side, I have my go-to units. Like I have the Garmin Edge 520 on the cycling side that I'm pretty much gonna always be using for things. And I'll compliment that with whatever I'm testing that day. So right now, for example, in cycling I'm testing the new Wahoo Element GPS Computer. In the case of running, I tend to go back and forth between the Garmin Forerunner 630, and then also depending on what I'm doing. If I'm doing like ultra running, not without the ultra, so I guess mountain running and things like that, then I might use an Ambit3 Peak in there, a Suunto Ambit3 Peak.
Ben: Yeah. I actually just got one of those. Somebody sent me one, and I've been experimenting with it and up 'til this point, just so folks know for several years, I raced for Timex up until this year. And so I was pretty much just like strictly required to wear Timex. And if I was ever seen in a photograph wearing anything other than a Timex, I would be in the doghouse. But now, I'm kind of branching out and testing all these things. I have one of these Suuntos now. It's pretty interesting. It's got an altimeter on it, so I went and raced an adventure race recently and was using the altimeter to do some of my data point finding. There's some cool features.
Ray: Yeah. It's a great watch, especially good for that mountaineering, hiking, you know, mountain sort of scenario.
Ben: Yeah. Exactly.
Ray: I think that's what they've excelled at and they're really good at that. So if I'm gonna be doing testing in the woods, I'm likely gonna go ahead and take that watch along with me to compare against 'cause I think it's one of the better units as from a competitor to that, the Fenix 3 which is also very, very good. But I like to try to mix up watches as much as possible, and take and doing a test with a running watch, for example. I usually have between two and four units with me to go ahead and to be able to kinda provide a comparison and say, “Here is how different units act in these different scenarios.”
Ben: How much difference is there? Like when you put on a watch, and let's say, let's just use a really simple scenario, right, like calorie burning. If you're testing multiple watches at once while you're out in a run, or a walk, or a hike, is there a pretty significant difference between brands as far as like how many calories it would tell you that you burned over, say, an hour?
Ray: Yeah. It could be huge. So, especially the calories are a great example, it's funny because every company uses different kind of calorimetrics behind the scenes, and sometimes, most times, those are provided by third party companies. In a lot of cases, those third party companies are all in Finland. Like there is like a one square mile area in Finland where almost all of this heart rate science-type calorie information comes from. It's kind of funny. Like these small little startup companies basically just kind of trade employees back and forth over the years. So you see a lot of that same kinda thought going between the different companies, but ultimately, like any company, you have engineers and engineers decide that their algorithm or their way is better than another way, right, and sometimes they're right, and sometimes they're wrong.
So you see those variances, especially when it comes to devices. Like Garmin, for example, will use literally a cheaper algorithm in their lower-end devices compared to a more expensive algorithm they outsource in their higher-end devices. So as a result, in the lower-end devices, most of the time the calorie burn is pretty good. It's about the same as what you get in the higher-end devices. But as you get into certain edge cases where someone, for whatever reason physiologically is different, that's where you start to see those differences become apparent, where someone will go, “Well, why am I burning three times as many calories as on this other device right there?”
Ben: Gotcha. So does it really come down to the fact that the more that you pay for the nicer elements of technology, the more accurate you're gonna get in terms of calorie burn, or heart rate, or distance, or pace, or something like that?
Ray: For a calorie burn, yes. For heart rate, for the most part, it's fairly straightforward in terms of a chest strap. Most companies are doing it the same way. In fact, most chest straps are made in the same factory, they're just rebranded by different companies. The difference is when you get to optical heart rate sensors, that's where you start to see some major differences. And it's not even by brand, it's really by the models and the sensors you use beneath them. So, in the case of Apple for example, Apple has optical heart rate sensor technology. You would probably say, coming into it, that Apple's is going to be great because Apple, right.
Ben: What is optical heart rate sensor technology?
Ray: Sure. So optical heart rate sensor is, you may have seen watches with the little green LED light on the inside of them, that allows you to measure your heart rate optically without any chest strap. So in the past, you had to put a chest strap on and that could be uncomfortable for some people, especially for women. So an optical heart rate sensor is basically one that usually goes on your wrist, but they can go other places in your body, like on your upper arm or something like that, and it just reads the blood flow through your capillaries and can measure your heart rate there.
Ben: And those are accurate now?
Ray: They can be accurate. And that's the trick is that some of the devices are very, very accurate, and there's a couple of companies that have been doing this for a number of years now, and they're smaller companies. One of them is Valencell and they make products for a number of different companies, but Scosche being another one, Mio, M-I-O, sensors makes another one. And these companies tend to license their sensors to other companies, like Garmin and Adidas, and so on, to use their products. So you kinda have to play this matrix of figuring out which underlying sensor is being used in which product. So, for example, Apple developed their sensor in-house and buy-and-large it's not terribly awesome. Garmin has some products that use Mio sensors and they're very accurate, and other products that use their own in-house sensors and those aren't as accurate.
Ben: Yeah, I've heard of this Mio before. So you would say that the Mio is an example of, like if a woman's listening in and she didn't want to wear a heart rate monitor strap, that that actually has a pretty decent optical sensor in it.
Ray: Very solid optical sensor. It's one of the best ones out there.
Ben: Okay. Cool. So in terms of all this technology, right, it seems like obviously the Consumer Electronics Show had an entire floor devoted to just these tracking and self-quantification devices, and there's new stuff all the time. How much of it is driven by companies just being under the gun to bring some kind of new technology, or some fancy new thing they can sell to the market versus how much of it is just like truly groundbreaking technology? I mean, are your eyeballs popping out your head every year when all this new stuff comes out? Or is a lot of it kinda like ho-hum, just the same old?
Ray: A little bit of both, I think. Like Garmin last year, they released 21 new fitness devices, right. That's basically a new fitness device every two and a half, three weeks, or something. So that's a lot of devices, and some of them were like you said, ho-hum, hmm, shrug, whatever. Just minor adds to keep people interested. And even like in the case of, they released a heart rate sensor watch in June only to have that watch be eclipsed by a new version in late September, the first week of October. So, you know, that obviously ticks off customers who are now going, “I just bought this watch three months ago and it's already basically dead on arrival.” So I think there is this fight, and I think Apple and the involvement now of the Apple, Microsoft, and Google-the-world into this realm has caused a lot of these purely fitness players to kind of both up their game which is good for consumers, but also just sort of like throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks.
Ben: Gotcha. Okay. So when you get a new device, are you doing anything specifically to try and figure out whether it really is like a new technology? Or is it pretty much you trusting what the manual says as far as what it has in there, if it really is something new or groundbreaking?
Ray: No. I pretty much never read the manual. So I'm looking at basically understanding how the device works, whether or not that sensor works. I treat every device as brand new. Like GPS is a good example, even though a company may have great history in GPS devices, every single new watch that comes out from a GPS standpoint is different and it can perform great or it can be horrible, and there's a lot of factors to that. It could be the GPS chipset firmware, so what firmware was loaded on that chip, it could be the exact GPS chipset, it could be the antenna design, it could be the software on the unit itself. And it's not unheard of or uncommon for a unit to be great and then the next version to be horrible, and it happens every year. So it's one of those things you kind of have to start from the beginning and figure out, “Is this unit worthwhile or is there some issue in it?”
Ben: So you don't read the manual for these devices?
Ray: Almost never.
Ben: How do you know how to use them?
Ray: I basically just try every button there is. So I'm trying all the options, I'm understanding how they work.
Ben: That doesn't seem very efficient.
Ray: (laughs) It's not, but it allows me to get through things. I think, the thing is I understand a lot of the devices already. So I kind of have this mental database of what those features are, and what's changed, and what's different in those features, and I also spend a lot of time talking to the companies on what's new in those devices. So take, for example, interval functions in a GPS watch. In the case of Garmin's interval function, that line of code has largely remain the same year, after year, after year. So I'm gonna spend less time on that, and basically I'm gonna focus on the new stuff, and kinda validate if the old stuff works, but otherwise, keep on the new stuff and see what's going on there.
Ben: Interesting. Okay. Got it. So when it comes to the products that you receive and you review, there's pretty much no bias, right. Because you're getting those, you're not buying them but you're getting them and you're just sending them back?
Ray: Yep. So I send them back, and it’s pretty much as simple as that. I think for me, I'm gonna call that companies that suck and I'm also gonna praise companies that do well. So if something's bad, that review is gonna reflect that, and the level of bad of that product will kind of drive how much criticism I have for 'em. And obviously if a company is releasing a lot of products, then more unlikely they're gonna get products right, most of the time. So you're going to have more positive reviews, but every once in awhile, even the companies out there that are dominating the landscape in this market, still release bad products and still make bad decisions, and so I'm going to call 'em on it.
Ben: So when you're exercising, right, do you ever just get sick of all this? Like do you ever just unplug, take everything off, no heart rate monitor, no power meter, and just go out and race by feel or train by feel?
Ray: Every once in a while, I do. Sometimes the closest I'll do that will be, I'll go ahead and I'll wear the watches, but I'll make them out of sight, for example. So I won't look at them, I won't use them, I'll just simply have them there recording data. And the reason is, for me, I've only got so many runs or so many rides in a given week or a given day, right. The human body can only do so much, and so I'm trying to take advantage of that testing time as much as possible. But a lot of that testing time is really more collecting data than it is watching every last second on the watch itself. So there are certainly runs where I'm very much using the watch itself. For example, if I was doing interval pacing. But if I'm going for a long run and I just wanna collect data on GPS accuracy, for example, I may stick some watches on me that are just simply collecting data along the way and that's it. But I can otherwise just run my own run.
Ben: Once you get your data, and you've been on training with this data, do you have some kind of software that you upload it to? Like do you have one piece of software that you like to use for tracking your own training or your own racing?
Ray: For my own training, mostly everything goes into both Strava and TrainingPeaks. So I use TrainingPeaks as sort of my like official golden logbook of my training record. So, obviously if I'm going out for a ride, like my ride yesterday I had, I think, five different bike head units on there. So that's a lot of data, and so I want to assure when it gets to TrainingPeaks it's not gonna have five copies of my ride there. So I try to keep that clean. Then I use Strava primarily for just sharing my rides with the world at large. So I kind of look at that as like my Facebook of training.
Ray: But, yeah, those are kind of the two that I use, and then behind the scenes I use other tools for actual analysis of comparing different units in terms of how they perform, accuracy, and things like that.
Ben: Gotcha. Yeah, that keeps things clean. That's generally what I use is TrainingPeaks, along with of course a few Instagram photos here and there. Now, as far as your own self-qualification, do you ever like to try some kind of new supplement, or new nutrition strategy, or some kind of a curve ball thrown at your body, and then go out and self-quantify and see how it affects exercise? You know, with all this data that you're tracking, are you doing more than just testing the device? Are you looking at how certain supplements or things like that affect your body?
Ray: I don't look too much at things like supplements or the like, but I look a little bit at how sleep tracking is becoming more and more popular, and there's a lot of capabilities there, so I'm looking at more environmental things. So for example, if I'm taking a red eye flight back, what is the impact on my training throughout the week, and how does that impact things like resting heart rate, and so how does that impact my sleep patterns for the week. So that, to me is more interesting. I've done some stuff here and there playing around with just drinking a bunch of wine and how does that impact heart rates and things like that.
Ben: So what do you use to track sleep?
Ray: I've been trying a couple different units. One is the Withings Aura System. So basically, it's like a bedside clock-looking thing, a lamp clock combo dish, and then it goes ahead has sensors that go underneath the side of the bed. So if there's two people on the bed, then you can have two sensors, and it tracks everything from your heart rate all night long to different levels of sleep. Also been trying out lately a product called Emfit, E-M-F-I-T.
Ben: I've heard of that one.
Ray: Yep. They do something kinda similar, but they also do heart rate variability. So they're digging a bit deeper into that heart rate metrics, they're starting to track that a bit more. There's obviously a lot of companies out there that are doing sleep tracking. I think it's interesting once you get deeper into that in terms of the data that you're gathering versus just are you moving or not.
Ben: So what kinds of stuff does this Withings Aura track?
Ray: So it tracks heart rate, it tracks sleep states, it'll track the trending of that. For me, the heart rate is interesting 'cause resting heart rate gets into recovery. So typically, the lower your resting heart rate, the more recovered you are. I found that for me, my resting heart rate is between 39 and 42, typically. But if I etch closer to, say, 50 or 51 beats per minute as my resting heart rate, then I know I'm about to get sick or I'm just incredibly fatigued. So it's really, really predictable for me, and I know that if I get that close, then it's probably time for me to find a way to rest a bit more. Otherwise, training's gonna go down and all that.
Ben: So you look at that more than you look at like heart variability to predict like injury or illness?
Ray: I do. I think that maybe a bit old school, and it's something I've been digging into more, and part of the challenge with heart rate variability as I dig more and more into it, different companies do it different ways. So you sit there and go, “Well, if I'm using heart rate variability, but to manufacturer A does it one way, manufacturer B does a different way, and manufacturer C does it a different way, then how do I know which one's right?
Ben: Yeah. That's your conundrum as you've got so many devices you're testing. I mean, I use heart rate variability to predict injury, or illness, or even to like purposefully overreach, or slightly over train and then bounce back from that, but I just always use the same device simply because I'm not getting hundreds of devices in the mail like you. I don’t think. So this Withings Aura allows you to track your sleep and your heart rate, are you looking at, like when you wake up, do you look at things like sleep latency, or like the number of sleep cycles that you go through, or anything like that?
Ray: I don't typically, mostly 'cause I know my sleep is usually pretty bad to begin with. (laughs) So I'm just looking at my total hours, so I keep it above a certain amount. So I'm looking at my resting heart rate, and for me, personally, I've kinda figured out those patterns. I think that's both the neat and challenging thing with resting heart rate, or sleep in general, is that you really need a lot of data to start figuring it out. Like you can't just use one of these devices for one week and say, “I've figured it out. I'm good.” You really need to have it for many weeks and realistically months to kind of be able to develop those trends and go, “Ah. So this is what this looks like when I had a really good training week,” and let me go back and validate that data against sleep data, or against resting heart rate, or even heart rate variability data, and that's just takes time unfortunately.
Ben: Gotcha. So you also mentioned alcohol. You tested alcohol and the effects of alcohol in exercise?
Ray: Yeah. So I was kinda curious. I did this a while back where when I was drinking more, like not to the point of drunk, but if you just drank a lot one day, which is pretty easy to do in France with wine so plentiful and cheap. What is the impact of that on heart rate, for example, and what is the impact on that on training the next day, and how does both pace and all that feel. And the challenge with that of course is that's very personal to me, right. So how I react to that would be very different than you, or very different than someone who drinks a lot more, or a lot less. So it's one of those things where it's not like translatable to everyone, but it's kind of an example where you can use technology to start to figure out, “Does that matter?” And so how that would matter to a runner though is, all people who do endurance running are going, “Ah. I got my Saturday morning long run. How much can I drink Friday night,” right? And so this is the way you could probably sort of quantify that and say, “Okay, I can have X number of drinks because Saturday morning, you know it is, or isn't gonna impact me beyond a certain threshold.”
Ben: Got it. Okay. Cool. So how many drinks did you drink when you tested this?
Ray: I think the last time I did it, it was roughly equivalent to a bottle of wine just by myself within a few hour period. So enough that, you know, if you had a thing on the bottle of wine you have a higher alcohol content bottle of wine then that can, for me that's a fair bit, but I don't drink a ton, so it just depends again on how much you're drinking normally.
Ben: Yeah. Okay. I actually just found this on your website. You had 12% loss in bike power.
Ben: It looks like your heart rate went up by almost two heart rate zones compared to what it would normally be for a given level of exertion. Wow. So it had a pretty significant effect. And by the way if you're listening in, I'll link to some of the stuff in the show notes if you wanna follow some of the crazy stuff that Ray has done to his body while testing these self-qualification devices.
Ray, so speaking of drinking and damaging the body, or excessive airline travel, or lack of sleep damaging the body, we've had discussions on the podcast before about like Bluetooth, and WiFi, and being constantly bombarded by radiation basically, from some of these devices. Have you ever looked into the health of that, or have you ever been concerned by any of those variables when it comes to just like constantly being tied down to an electronic device?
Ray: It's not something I've looked into. I'm not sure how I would test that to be honest. I think it's something that I know there's obviously a lot of entities out there that are testing, and are looking at it, and I don't think there's anything that we've seen at this point that indicates concern there assuming you're somewhat normal on how and where you put these devices. But honestly, I think the bigger concern there is more on the mental health side of things, and it is probably on the radiation side, right. So if you're bombarded by smartphone notifications 24 hours a day, and you're in this chronic, or constant state of hyper awareness, is that more damaging to your mental health than just being able to relax and kinda shut some things off?
Ben: Gotcha. Gotcha. Yeah. We had an interesting podcast with a guy named Dr. Jack Kruse, and he was talking about how long term exposure to Bluetooth signals, and this was mostly near the head, right, it caused leakage of the of the blood-brain barrier in rodents. And then he has more concerns about like devices that emit a WiFi signal. Like I think I believe the Apple Watch does that versus devices that emit a lower frequency, say, like a Bluetooth signal. But it is interesting. It's something that I'm constantly aware of. I try personally not to be tied down especially to the WiFi too much.
You also, like I mentioned, you're an experienced world traveler and you have a pretty cool travel blog in which you write about all these different places that you've been around the world, either visiting or racing. What are some of your favorite hot spots that you think folks listening in should see if they're an athlete, like a travel destination race you'd recommend? Or just like an active vacation that you've been on that you just think everybody should know about?
Ray: I think probably one of the coolest places to be inactive, or an athlete and still be on vacation and still see something totally different is around Cape Town, South Africa. So that's absolutely a beautiful coastline along the cape there, and a huge cycling community, lots of running going on there. And you can really get out and just enjoy this very rugged coastline with kind of these cliffs that just jet up, you know, I'm guessing a thousand feet into the air, and then beautiful beaches there at the right time of year.
And Cape Town as a city is a cool vibrant place as well. So, I love getting down there and it's the opposites in terms of seasons. So this time of the year, it's really nice right there versus in the summer, it'll be kinda a little bit cooler. So to me it's a great place. There are some races down there. I haven't done any of those, but definitely I've done a bit of cycling down there, and running, and the cycling's just awesome. I mean, where else can you get like an ostrich running down the road in front of you, or after you, or wherever else. And then, of course, you can combine that with just kinda being out in nature in general with safaris and things like that, just a short little plane hop away from Cape Town. So it's one of those places that I love going out and kind of being active in.
Ben: What about races? Like have you been to a destination race? Like I, for example, I tell people, like any triathletes out there, I tell 'em you gotta go and race someday the Laguna Phuket Triathlon, and now they have the Half Ironman there. So you can stay for like two weeks, and it's just good food, and good parties, and it's a very well organized race, and a safe place, but also a place where you see a lot of stuff you don't see in other places of the world. You know, everything from Thai kickboxing, to amazing Thai cuisine, the $5 killer massages, so, what about you? Do you have like a racing hotspot that you've been to as far as a race that you've really enjoyed?
Ray: I'm probably a bit biased, and I love the Paris Marathon. So, it's a lot of fun here in the city.
Ben: It doesn't count. You live there.
Ray: It doesn't count. No. But it is a good destination race in that it's one of those ones where you can go to, you get around easily, and you legitimately see the entire city and every single monument along this race course. So it's a lot of fun in that respect. I think most of the racing I've done in Europe has been either marathons or kind of small racing, so I haven't done a lot beyond that, and then most of my travel, I've traveled I think like 70 to 80 countries now, but it hasn't been as much for a destination endurance race. I've done a lot of 10Ks in places. Like usually if I go somewhere and I can find in their local schedule a 10K race in the city, I'll do that. I think that's an easy one that a lot of people forget about is that most cities have 10Ks like almost every weekend somewhere. So you can usually, if you poke around a little bit ahead of time, find a race in that city and then the benefit there is you get a t-shirt or whatnot to take home with you.
Ben: Gotcha. Okay. Cool. So in terms of athlete quantification, you probably get this question all the time, I'm gonna ask anyways, but what do you think is the next biggest trend in athlete quantification? ‘Cause we see heart rate variability, we see sleep cycle tracking, and I actually just recently got this power meter device for running called a Stryd that I've been testing on my treadmill. There's all sorts of new stuff all the time. What do you think is the most exciting or the coolest trend that's coming down the pipeline?
Ray: I think it's some of those that you named. I think in terms of running, I think running power is definitely something that's coming down that pipeline. I've been trying the Stryd out as well, and it's a technology that's still emerging. There are still some open questions there, but to dismiss it would be silly. I think if you fast forward 5 or 10 years from now, running power will be just as popular as cycling power.
Ben: Now, by the way, why would people want to go with power for running?
Ray: It allows you to basically kind of normalize, I guess you could say, variables like wind and train in your running paces. So that's just like in cycling. So in cycling, people use power to go ahead and figure out if you're going up a hill, or down a hill, or into the wind, or with the wind, that you can normalize all those variables and keep a very consistent effort across all those. And cycling and running is the same here. So instead of having pace, 'cause if you run up a hill, your pace is gonna decrease for the same amount of effort, or your effort increases for the same pace. So the idea with powers is that it's more instantaneous than heart rate. Heart rate is a very lagging indicator. Meaning it takes a bit more time for heart rate to catch up. But heart rate also can be variable, depending on your health that day, right. Whether you got enough sleep, or if you're fatigued, or if you're sick, heart rate can be quite dramatic in terms of difference there.
So whereas power is, it's not something that's measuring your body, it's measuring your output. So that's the benefit. I think there's still definitely that technology, it's getting there. There's some questions like, for example, Stryd doesn't take into account wind, right. So if you're running a marathon into a 20 mile an hour headwind, that'll make a pretty big deal by the end of the race. So that's an area that still needs to catch up a bit.
Ben: Gotcha. Okay. Cool. So you got power meter for running. Anything else that you think is gonna be big this year, or in the next couple of years for self-quantification for athletes?
Ray: I think we'll continue to see better data around the 24 by 7 heart rate pieces. So we're starting to see that now. We have this 24 by 7 heart rate being tracked through primarily optical heart rate sensors that are in wrist watches. But the data, they're not quite pulling the data out of that yet. So they could, to be able to go ahead and develop trends. So I think we'll start to see more companies taking advantage of that data, and getting into things like heart rate variability deeper, but I think we're just kind of scratching the surface of what's potential.
Ben: You mean just because you can track it all the time, like all day long, accurately?
Ben: Without wearing a heart rate strap per se?
Ray: Precisely. So to the normal person, you don't feel or look any different. You just have this tiny little green light that's kind of always on. And so that's something that I think, as we gather more data, we'll be able to start to figure out what to do with that data, and then how to train a race by it. Which I think is probably the biggest challenge we have is that a lot of these devices gather data and gather metrics, but you have to really kinda step back and go, “Is this data useful for training or racing,” right. “Or is it just noise,” right, and that's the biggest thing that I've been kinda trying to focus on, ‘coz a lot of these companies coming out with new metrics. Are they marketing metrics? Or are they something that you can truly use to get faster for your race?
Ben: Gotcha. Well, Ray, you've done everything from testing a Garmin GPS while running around in circles on a cruise ship. You've got articles on like how to take great photos while you're out training. You obviously have your article about the effects of a bottle of wine. You have your “25 Most Useful” post. You've got a podcast. There's all sorts of goodies. I could spend hours on your website, and folks if you're listening in, you should add this one to your feed reader. I'll warn you, you might get sucked into the internets for a while on Ray's site, but it's dcrainmaker.com. Why's it called DC, by the way?
Ray: So, you know how like when you chose your AOL screen name years, and years, and years ago? You just had to like type something until you got it there?
Ben: Mine was whos410s.
Ray: Exactly. But, like I tried rainmaker, just as a play on my name. It didn't work. When I was living in DC at the time, so I stuck DC in front of it, and then that little blog spot thing came back and said “Successful”, and that was it. (laughs)
Ben: So that's it.
Ray: Had I known I would live in Paris or somewhere else, I probably would have thought that through a bit more.
Ray: But I suppose when you're just starting off, like with exactly one viewer, you, right, you don't really think of those things.
Ben: Yeah. Well, it sounds cool and now it's like a household name in cycling. So there you go. So dcrainmaker.com. Check it out, and I'm sure you'll enjoy some of Ray's stuff if you're into self-qualification, or triathlon, or anything else. So, Ray, thanks so much for coming on the show. Oh, and folks, if you're listening in, I've been taking notes furiously and some of the articles, and some of the things that Ray and I have talked about, you can also access over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/rainmaker. So Ray, thanks for your time, man.
Ben: Alright, folks. This is Ben Greenfield and Ray Maker signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
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Meet Ray Maker (pictured above).
Via his website “DC Rainmaker“, and his podcast by the same name, Ray single-handedly tests, reviews and reports on nearly every self-quantification device that hits the market, including the latest devices from established players like Garmin and Polar, along with new companies like Strava, Zwift, Stages Cycling, 4iiii, and other brands that attract the attention of both the tech world, the bike market, the triathlon industry and beyond – often testing prototypes months before a product is brought to market.
Ray often operates beneath the radar of the traditional, brick-and-mortar, ink-on-paper side of the bike world, but shockingly, his site, which he runs entirely by himself, is the sixth most popular bicycling website on the planet. He’s even been listed in Runner’s World as one of “The 50 Most Influential People In Running”.
Ray is an avid triathlete and runner, and despite operating DC Rainmaker still works full-time in the IT industry, in a position that requires him to travel the world constantly. He’s an American, but now lives in Paris, France, with his wife. His far-flung trips are part of the appeal of his website, as he reports not just on technology, but also on his adventures running, biking and swimming around the globe.
A true fitness geek, Ray puts the gadgets he tests through rigorous evaluations, reporting on the nitty gritty details, flaws, benefits, pros, cons, and even delivers the first-hand reports on the latest firmware updates for various devices. He does things like mount multiple power meters on his bike, or wears several heart monitors at once, and often delivers intricate multi-thousand word reports and reviews on every device he tests.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
-Ray’s crazy story of testing the waterproof potential of an Apple watch…
-How Ray makes money on his website by reviewing devices…
-The coolest piece of self-quantification technology Ray has ever used…
-Ray’s most recommended piece of technology…
-How much of racing and training technology is just the ‘same ol’, vs. truly groundbreaking technology…
-What a device must do to break the mold and fit into that ground-breaking category…
-How Ray keeps from being “biased” by products he receives and reviews…
-What Ray uses to track sleep…
-The effects of alcohol on training…
-Ray’s thoughts on the potential “biological danger” of bluetooth, wireless and wifi devices?
-Whether Ray just “unplugs” and go by feel…
-Ray’s #1 recommended vacation and must-see spot for active people or athletes…
-What Ray thinks is the next biggest trend in athlete quantification…
Resources from this episode: