The Power of a Fitness Community: Morning Workouts with the November Project in Boston

It’s 6:00am on a Wednesday morning in early November, and I’m on my bike heading to Harvard Stadium.  I’ve managed to get myself out of bed, but my head is filled with negative thoughts.  It’s cold.  It’s dark.  I’m tired.  I don’t think I’m going to have a great workout today.

I arrive and get a hug from November Project co-founder Brogan Graham.  He informs me that today’s workout is FrogMan1.  Ugh.  FrogMan1 means climbing 50 sections at the stadium – it’s a long, tough workout and I’ve only ever finished it once before.  I look at Brogan and say “I don’t think I have the energy to do that today.”  I immediately regret my remark, because at November Project the vibe is overwhelmingly positive, and here I am whining.  Ignoring my lame excuse, Brogan responds: “Abby, whether you do 1 or 50, it’s all great, but I believe in you.”  He says this without a hint of irony. Bojan Mandaric, the other co-founder of the group, jokingly tells me that unlike Brogan, he has his doubts.  I turn and head up my first section.

With Brogan’s support lifting my spirits and the sudden desire to prove Bojan wrong, I continue to climb up and down the sections of the stadium.  Around 6:30am the main pack of members show up – at least 200 people by my estimate.  The sun is finally out, and I am seeing the familiar faces that I’ve come to know from these early morning workouts over the past few months.  Words of encouragement fly around between members as they pass each other: You got this! Turn and go, keep moving!  Good morning!  Great job!  Every once in while you hear a random shout of F*** YEAH!  This is November Project.  And after an hour, I’ve completed my FrogMan1.

I found out about the November Project through word of mouth over the summer and thought I’d give it a try.  The group was started in November 2011 by two friends who were looking for a way to stay motivated to work out through the cold winter months.  Instead of staying in bed and letting their workouts slide, they decided to meet early in the mornings during the week.  It worked, and by being accountable to each other and tracking their progress, they stuck with it all winter long.  In the spring of 2012 they started inviting friends to their morning workout sessions, launched a blog, twitter account and facebook page, and the group started to grow.  And grow, and grow, and grow, until a morning in August when over 300 people showed up at Harvard Stadium at 6:30am to run stairs.  In honor of reaching 300+ members, Brogan and Bojan celebrated by getting November Project tattoos.

November Project is free, and meets 3 times a week at 6:30am.  To join you must simply show up.  Monday the workout is Destination Deck – run (or bike) to a predetermined destination in Boston and then do pushups and situps with a deck of cards: black cards are pushups, red are situps, and the reps are determined by the number on the card (face cards are 11, 12, and 13, aces are 14). Monday’s location changes each week and is announced in advance on the blog and twitter account.  Wednesday  morning the group meets at Harvard Stadium to stomp all over those concrete seats.  Friday morning is hill running on Summit Ave in Brookline.  All the workouts are tough, but they are scalable, meaning that no matter your fitness level you can still participate.  The group holds hands before some workouts, and hugs and high fives and given out liberally.  Goofy?  Maybe.  Fun?  Absolutely. Verbal commitments are highly encouraged, and if you say you’re going to show up but then bail, you might find yourself on the wall of shame – the “We Missed You” section of the blog.

I realized right away that the November Project is addictive.  Not only am I finishing workouts I never thought I’d be able to do, I love the accountability and the encouragement of the group.  I love that people take pictures and post them on Facebook and congratulate each other on a job well done.  When my alarm goes off and I consider just staying in bed, I remember that my friends are out there waiting for me and I get moving.

This post was written for CCRP by Abby Cange.

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