November Project

What began as an athletic challenge between two friends is now a worldwide movement.
november project

It was a brisk Wednesday morning in Toronto. My alarm buzzed, and my phone read, “NP – Get Up.” It was 5 a.m. I debated staying in bed but knew that sleeping in wasn’t an option, considering where I was going. I suited up and headed out the door. The cool air was refreshing. I started with a steady jog—a warm up—towards my first November Project, a global fitness movement that has attracted hundreds of members.

I arrived at the Casa Loma steps a few minutes early and was immediately called out as a new recruit. After loudly declaring that I was here for the first time, I began receiving hugs. Not high fives or handshakes. Hugs. I’d heard about this unusual way of welcoming new members but didn’t know exactly what to make of it until I made my introduction. Everyone there that morning made a commitment to themselves and each other, and the hugs seemingly sealed the deal. Sam Hirons, co-leader of November Project’s Toronto chapter (or tribe, as it’s called) spotted me in the crowd and gave me a nod. The workout was about to begin.

November Project began in 2011 as a month-long challenge between Brogan Graham and Bojan Mandaric, two rowers from Northeastern University looking for something beyond their usual workouts. They pledged to show up every morning during the month of November to run hills and the steps of Harvard Stadium. The two created a Google Doc simply named “November Project” to track their progress and record their times. As months passed, the two continued to push each other with early morning workouts, and the name stuck.

“It became very addictive,” Graham recalls in November Project: The Book. “You’re sitting at your desk at work afterward, proud of yourself even though you’re all tucked in, but you’ve already had a dose of something that’s pretty raw and pretty real.”

After Graham and Mandaric began spray-painting shirts with the now-popular logo, people started to notice. The two went on social media and sent an invitation to join their new campaign partly as a joke and to see who was crazy enough to accept it. Just one person showed up. Today, however, November Project has 30 tribes—two in Europe, seven in Canada, and 21 in the United States. It’s not hard to see why.

“November Project is a grassroots [and] free fitness movement that aims to create a friendly, accessible workout environment for people of all fitness levels,” Hirons explained.“We do this through scalable free weekly workouts that are both fun and fierce, supported by a community that welcomes people with literally open arms.”

When I asked Hirons what he found particularly appealing about November Project, he didn’t hesitate to respond.

“I was a stranger in the city, [and] I didn’t know anybody, but it didn’t matter,” he said, reflecting on the first several November Project events he attended. “All these strangers [were] hugging and high-fiving me. It’s easy to shake someone’s hand, but what do you get from that? It’s about breaking down boundaries.”

That was much clearer when I announced myself that morning. As Hirons gathered our group together, he greeted us loudly. “Good morning!,” he yelled.

“Good morning!” we barked back.

“Are you good?” he asked.

“Fuck yeah!” we shouted back.

After Hirons gave us a quick rundown of the day’s workout, I could hear a few groans as we broke into teams and devised a plan to tackle the list of exercises. We were about to do 400 burpees, push-ups, sit-ups, and mountain climbers. As I did my sets, I could feel my palms become raw and my quads burn, but I was not alone. As each team finished its workout, it joined another one until everyone completed the day’s training together. By the end of the day, we had collectively done thousands of push-ups, but we were all smiles. Despite the overwhelming physical and sensory experience we had just shared, many of our members were already talking about attending future workouts.

For both Mandaric and Graham, November Project was never about popularity or national book tours. It grew out of a brotherly bond, a love of friendly competition, and a desire to be active without spending a fortune on gym memberships. “I don’t even remember how it went from five people to 50 people,” Mandaric explains in November Project. “The initial idea was not to grow the numbers, it’s just something that happened.”

The workouts are tough, but they’re meant to be. They incorporate high-intensity training and metabolic conditioning that echo elements from Graham and Mandaric’s rowing days. The ultimate purpose is to trade sleep for times that push limits and break boundaries.

“There is no better feeling than finding the line,” Graham told me in an email. “But when you do it with a team or a community, it’s unlike any other feeling.”

Find out more about the November Project in your local area by visiting www.november-project.com.

Written by : Ashley Dier 

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