Pedometer Review

Editor's note: INDYCAR engine support engineer Daniel Louks and his wife, Vikkie (driver safety inspector), were requested to wear pedometers during the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season to give them and fans an idea of how many steps their respective jobs require during event weekends. Below is their report.

At the end of the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series season, I wanted a new game console. With our travels , I got away from playing console games, and I missed out on most of the previous generation of the PS3/XBox 360. We finally bought a Nintendo Wii in 2010 for the near-exclusive purpose of getting exercise with the game "Wii Fit" (we ultimately graduated to the excellent "EA Sports Active 2", which we actually use to this day on a regular basis, and helped me get into better shape for the Arena Curling Nationals in June).

Anyway, in looking at the next console, I saw that Nintendo was working on expanding their "Wii Fit" series with an additional device: a small, inexpensive pedometer/activity meter cleverly named the "Wii Fit Meter" that would synchronize with the new game and console for tracking outside of the game. Vikkie was interested in that, and the following Christmas, she received one in her stocking, which gave us the upgraded software at no extra charge.

It's the size of a conventional pedometer, but instead of simply counting steps, it has accelerometers, a thermometer and barometer inside to measure your general activity level; it knows the difference between running and walking and knows if you were going uphill/upstairs, all of which have different metabolic rates. It is synchronized to the Wii Fit U software, and even shows your "Mii" character's face on the unit to personalize and differentiate the units. With your personal profile loaded into the Wii Fit Meter, including age, gender, weight, and height, the unit automatically tracks the daily number of steps and effective calories burned each day, even giving you a 24-hour history of activity level and altitude change, along with a two-week history of daily calorie consumption. It shows the current time, the current temperature, and the relative change in altitude (which can be reset at any time if you're, say, arriving by plane to a race at a different elevation).

By the time spring came around, we both had the small, $20 units that we were wearing on a daily basis, slowly finishing the "courses" the game provides to help accumulate your mileage of walking. Every time you synchronized the units, you could apply that mileage to any course that was available, based on real-world locations like the New York Marathon Course at 26.2 miles or even a "Tour of Italy" that is several hundred miles long.

When the season was starting at the Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park, we decided we would apply miles we accumulated on the road/at the racetrack to a separate courses and isolate it from regular activity. We used the Tour of Italy for races, since it was the longest course (I wanted to separate races and tests, so I put "tests" on a Tour of Hawaii course and added the mileage, Vikkie put everything in one ... she had the better idea, since there were some tests I couldn't separate, such as Fontana).

Despite wearing our meters the entire weekend, including airports and evening activities, only once did our "off-track" activity likely significantly contribute to our total: between the Sonoma and Fontana races at the end of the season, we remained in California, and a small group of INDYCAR coworkers crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on foot. Crossing the 1.7-mile bridge twice (we probably wouldn't have gone back across if the car wasn't still in Marin County) added 3.5 miles to our total. Ultimately, however, we figured everything we did on a weekend was considered part of our "racing activity", and there were regularly times I returned to the hotel late enough from the track that we either skipped supper and didn't go anywhere in the evening.

Everywhere we walked was to a destination: there was no “walking for exercise” while we were traveling. Vikkie really used the opportunity to maximize her output; she opted to walk to and from the hotel at Barber for the Open Test when we stayed at the Hampton Inn, which is a non-trivial distance at night (Google Maps lists it as 2.5 miles walking). Anytime we were potentially walking distance from the hotel and still had a car, she tried to walk to or from the circuit as often as possible. (She had walked to the hotel on occasion before: in 2013 at Iowa, she wanted to walk back to the hotel, and several folks stopped to ask if she needed a ride. She politely refused, saying she wasn't abandoned by anyone, and just wanted the steps. A few cars later, Johnny Rutherford pulled along to offer assistance as well. It wasn't until she kindly explained about the exercise and he pulled away that she realized her father would be very disappointed to hear she refused a chance to ride with an Indy 500 legend).

Because the Wii Fit software accounts for all of your personal data in calculating calorie burn (i.e. height, age, gender), she found she had to exceed my step count by about three times in order to match my estimated calorie burn. Seeing that number was no shortage of frustration on her end, but we both know she far exceeded me when it came to being fit-conscious at the racetrack.

Thinking healthy was better for both of us last season, and it paid off by Fontana: we both reached fitness goals by the end of the season, and she managed to put in 30 more miles this year than I did.

The other thing; since we work for INDYCAR, our amount of walking in the paddock has dropped significantly from being on a team. We no longer had the dozens of trips from the garage to the truck, and the several trips from the truck to the pit lane each day. At Indy alone, I think I could accumulate 50 miles for the one event (having a pit box at the North end was 3/4 mile round-trip). Everyone in the INDYCAR paddock is generally quite active, regardless of their role.

In all, I walked 213 miles during the season. Vikkie walked 243 miles.