Drinking The Kool-Aid: My First November Project Experience


I am now 3 days removed from my first November Project experience and just now starting to regain full use of my quadriceps. Such is the difficulty of doing HALF a full workout.

November Project, briefly, is a grassroots fitness movement started by two former crew rowers, Brogan and Bojan, in Boston. Meant to last but one month, ie November, NP has grown from 1 member beyond the founders to hundreds in Boston alone plus new NP locations in cities from Boston to Vancouver. Yes, Vancouver. I can’t speak for the other city’s schedules and activities, but in Boston NP meets three days a week, with a moving Destination Deck on Monday featuring various exercises, stadium steps at the Harvard Track on Wednesdays, and hill work on Friday. Members are held to an accountability system through “verbal” commitments and you may find yourself publicly called out for reneging on such a verbal. Oh, and it’s free.  To get more of the story, and a glimpse into practices, check out this video.

Since its inception, NP has developed something of a cult-like following, with NP members referred to as The Tribe. It’d be tough to meet a duo more charismatic and engaging than Brogan and Bojan, the proverbial pied pipers of fitness. Perhaps it was this exuberant devotion that caused me to stay away for so long, not wanting to be sucked in, or perhaps it was laziness in not wanting to wake up at 5 am to make a 6:30 am session but, whatever the reason, I did not attend an NP workout until I finally made a verbal to attend a Wednesday session of stadium stairs.

Walking up the steps into the stadium, I began to get both excited and terrified, hoping I wouldn’t do something to immediately identify myself as a “noob.”

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I arrived to find a large group of mostly young, think 20-30 something’s on the whole, gathering and chatting at the base of the first section of the horseshoe-shaped stadium.

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There are 37 sections with, according to the official numbers, 1147 steps if you complete a full Stadium. Wednesdays feature both a 5:30 and 6:30 am group. You can see the 5:30 group taking their group shot here.

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Before I actually started the workout, Bojan called a meeting of Newbies, about 20 of us. After some light stretching, we were told to high 5 five people. Then hug a stranger for 5 seconds. Then hug a stranger for 7 seconds. Sound silly? Sure, and it is. And that’s the point. You giggle. You laugh. You drop an F Bomb or 2 and, even for a brief moment, you make a connection with someone. I hugged a dude for 7 seconds and survived to tell the tale.  When the hugging and high fiving was over, Bojan explained to us how the session would go.  As you might expect, it’s fairly straight-forward: 45 minutes on the clock, do as many sections as you can.  Sometimes a bell will be rung, indicating a fire drill at which point everyone drops on their step and does push-ups until the bell stops ringing.  Being new to the Project, Bojan recommended we go halfway on our first time, to section 19.  I hated the idea of cutting a workout short, but everything I’d heard going into this was that the stairs were a lot harder than could be expected and I’d be wise to follow the advice given.

The sun shines on The Tribe.

The sun shines on The Tribe.

At last, we lined up, 10 at a time to begin our up and down journey around McCurdy Track.  I was quickly taken aback by just how tall the stadium steps, requiring more of a lunge than a step.  This was not the stairwork we would do in high school.  I started off by trying some approximation of running up the steps and then walking back down (the stairs used coming down are more like regular steps, but narrower, making them feel quite precarious when your legs are wobbly).  That strategy didn’t last long and likely doomed me from the get-go.  Before long, I was struggling, hands on knees, trying to will my burning quads to keep moving.  Soon, there was no attempt at running, or bounding, up the stairs.  There was only one thought: “get to the top of this section.”  I was thankful to have fellow Hub Runner Brenna there as she provided motivation and encouragement as I made my way up and down, up and down, up and down, the concrete steps.  Despite strong inclinations otherwise, I didn’t let myself stop to try to recover at the bottom of a section, having a strong feeling that if I did I might never start again.  Some of the de facto leaders of NP made their way around the stadium, shouting encouragement, giving more high-fives, and reminding those that stopped that the base was “lava” and they had to get out of it.  Again, silly, but, from what I saw at least, it never failed to work.  No one wants to find him or herself in lava.

At Section 18, I decided to give a little extra push, mixing in a few bounding/running steps up.  Then I finished Section 19, the halfway point and figured, “what the heck, why not 1 more?”  So, my workout ended after Section 20, and I was happy to call it a day there.  Despite having given up running long ago in the morning, my legs felt like absolute jelly.  Quivering jelly, at that, like a wobbly jello mold.  After finishing the last up section I didn’t even trust myself to go back down the stairs, for fear my legs would just give out from under me and I’d go a-tumblin’, tumblin’ down, down, down to the lava below.  This is what my workout looked like via GPS (kind of, at least, I don’t think Garmin had a lot of luck tracking the stairs).

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I found Brenna and finally got some blessed relief sitting at the top of Section 19, waiting for the rest of The Tribe to finish this insane workout.  Many were still running, yes running, up the steps to finish their stadium, some were even ON THEIR WAY BACK, having already done all 1147 steps but not having found satisfaction yet.

Recovering with Brenna.

Recovering with Brenna.

Finally, the 45 minutes was up, and the majority of participants gathered in Section 19.  The first order of business was the awarding of the Positive Energy Stick.  That might not be its actual name, but it’s a big stick, and you get it for displaying utmost positive energy during the workout.  It seems to be quite the honor.

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The presentation of the Positivity Stick.

Next, we wished a Happy  Birthday to Tribe members, along with doing some sort of echo-type shout, which I couldn’t quite figure out, but it sounded neat, so there was that.  You can even hear it here.

And, with that, my first November Project workout was complete.  I made my way, slowly, to the car, seeing two of the people most responsible for getting me to finally go, Lindsay and Renata of Marathon Sports group runs and Hub Running, along the way.  I felt flush with excitement over the possibilities that lay in store with more NP workouts, albeit I foresee myself being limited to Wednesdays until we move out of the suburbs.  I pictured tearing down downhills with my stair-strengthened quads, being propelled forward on taut calves, and a general increase in stamina for race day if I stuck with it.  I was even motivated to run later that night, my first 2 workout day in Lord knows how long.

In the end, I’m not remotely surprised that I find I drank the November Project Kool-Aid.  Hard.  It’s a gathering of people all trying to be the best they can be, whatever that means for them.  Some are trying to get in better shape, some trying to be better runners, some better athletes in general.  Maybe some just really like working out.  Whatever their reason, they are there doing their thing and supporting others with an infectious air of positive energy and optimism.  If you go to a November Project workout, I urge you to go with an open mind and  a willingness to smile.  It’s easy to be cynical about it all, especially if you’re a bit of a curmudgeon like myself.  But, at least as far as I can tell after one workout, it’s real.  The people, the energy, and, above all the work you will put in, all real, and all ready to kick your butt into shape.

The Tribe is strong, and I hope to make it one person stronger.

Verbal for next Wednesday.

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One Response to “Drinking The Kool-Aid: My First November Project Experience”

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