Most congressional races are over a seat, but the WalkingWorks Capitol Hill Challenge is over a shoe — or, more specifically, a footwear-shaped trophy that goes to the team that manages to walk the farthest over a six-week period. It’s currently sitting in a place of glory in the office of Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., whose staff went the extra miles last year to take home the prize.

And with just one more week left in the 2010 challenge, they’re atop the leaderboard and looking for a repeat. “We consider it our trophy, and we fully intend to defend it,” says team captain Jennifer Hoelzer, 32, the senator’s communications director. The strategy: “Get everyone involved.”

Just about every person on staff in both the D.C. and Oregon offices has been outfitted with a pedometer. That, of course, includes the senator, who got the OK to wear it even in confidential meetings. As a group, they take long treks together to lunch every Friday, and they monitor each other’s behavior to ward off any signs of laziness. “If anyone ever sees me pushing an elevator button, I’m in trouble,” Hoelzer says.

Their secret weapon is their state, says legislative assistant Ben Widness, 28. Oregon is home to huge numbers of hikers and bikers, not to mention the Nike Corporation. “This is what we like to be known for,” he says. Many of them have been boosting their numbers by skipping Metro and bus rides to work, and logging extra miles on their runs.

Although they started out as a fairly fit staff, the challenge has whipped them into even better shape. “Measuring is the most important step, because once you realize how this adds up, you start doing it more,” says legislative assistant Isaiah Aiken, 32, who thinks the extra activity has given him and his co-workers more energy.

For Hoelzer, the best side effect has been the team bonding. “This keeps our spirits up,” she says. That’s not necessarily easy when you’re working 14 hours a day. So, they’ll feel like they’ve won even if they don’t get to stare at the trophy for another year. But good luck to anyone who thinks they can pull ahead of Team Wyden. It’s looking like a shoo-in for that shoe.

Photo by Marge Ely/Express