November Project is a grassroots, free fitness movement that started in Boston and is now in 16 cities across North America. The premise is simple: just show up, work hard, and hug harder. No frills, membership fees, registration, or gear needed. The idea is to bring a community of people together to push and encourage one another while getting fitter, faster, and happier along the way. In Denver, November Project takes place at 6:15 am twice a week: at the Capitol Building/Civic Center Park every Wednesday, and the location rotates every Friday.
I’ve always been the type of person who exaggerates for the sake of emphasis.
“This is easily the best cookie I’ve ever had.”
“I’ve never seen a better sunset in my life!”
“No one has EVER been more tired than I am right now.”
I’ve said all of those expressions, more than once, along with similar statements in the name of humor or stressing my point. Therefore, when I say something like, “November Project brought me back to life,” it would be understandable to assume that – once again – I was giving a light-hearted exaggeration.
But here’s the truth: without a sliver of doubt, or feeling that I’m being over-the-top, I can boldly say that since I started attending November Project in late April 2014, nothing has really been the same – all entirely for the better. And in both literal and figurative ways, it really has brought me back to life. Here’s my story of finding NP5280.
When we first moved to Denver at the beginning of March, a great deal of change had happened all at once. Adam and I quit our jobs, got engaged, moved to a new city, and started new jobs all within the span of a couple weeks. In hindsight, I should have anticipated that it wouldn’t be easy, but I will fully admit that I completely underestimated just how overwhelming and stressful it would all be.
In the moment, all I could think was, “These are all good things! Must stay pumped! Love it all! Do it all!” But the fact is that change, even good change, takes its toll. So, after a brief period of my health recuperating from my terrible Crohn’s Disease flare up last December, it’s no surprise that my symptoms returned in full force within a few short weeks after our move.
I was frustrated, to say the least; I was taking the best-of-the-best (and most expensive) medications, I was trying to train for the Boston Marathon and couldn’t go a mile without making a bathroom stop, and the last thing I needed while living in a new city was a reason to stay in bed.
Consequently, the start of living in Denver was spent trying to train amidst a lingering Crohn’s flare up (while acclimating to high altitude) , going to GI appointments, and using all other energy reserves to try and learn a new job. It was not, as you can imagine, the fairy-tale Colorado life I’d been picturing when we initially moved.
I managed to get myself in shape enough to make the Boston trip, and along the way I met Julia. We “knew” each other from the internet since we both ran for Oiselle, but our serendipitous official first meeting happened while we were both literally on the run. It was great to make contact with someone I knew would be in Boston, and seeing as we both had identical PRs in both the half and the full marathon, I was pretty convinced we’d get along well.
The two of us teamed up in Boston, so-to-speak, and she introduced me to another friend there from Denver, Dan. I learned the two of them knew each other from a workout group I’d vaguely heard about through the grapevine, called November Project. They encouraged me to come once we were back home, and while it definitely did not sound like my normal fitness preference, their enthusiasm was intriguing – and infectious.
So, after they both kicked my ass at Boston, I figured why not: these people are fit, fast, and obviously infatuated with this “November Project” thing, so I suppose I ought to check it out. Admittedly, though, I was intimidated. I was incredibly self-conscious about my fitness level at that point and gravely aware of how far off I was in terms of my normal speed and strength. Not to mention my stomach was still a wreck, I couldn’t run without needing a bathroom, and I wasn’t feeling great about leaving any comfort zones.
But, on April 29, I mustered up my courage and made my way to the Civic Center Park. When I arrived, I initially panicked that Julia wasn’t there yet and approached the group as slow as possible, trying to blend in and act like I knew exactly what I was doing. Almost immediately, a smiling face approached me and asked if I was Robyn, and before I could barely even say yes I was embraced in a huge hug.
“Well, she’s certainly friendly!” were my immediate thoughts.
A few minutes later, the group was called into a circle and we started to bounce up and down – which was a welcome relief from the cold.
Dan (the same Dan from Boston, who I hadn’t even realized was the leader of this whole deal) belted out, “GOOD MORNING!” to which everyone replied good morning back.
“Okay, this is fun…lots of upbeat people, I’m not the only one who likes the early mornings apparently.”
Dan: “Y’ALL GOOD?”
Group: “FUCK YEAH!”
Me: “Okay…I like this.”
We were then given directions for the workout. I didn’t really know it at the time, but it was “PR Clover Day,” which is a workout done once a month in which you count up the number of repetitions you can do of a running/stairs route within 35 minutes. Something else I didn’t know at the time: it’s the hardest workout they do.
Off we went. And within probably 4 minutes of starting, I was both horrified and giddy about what I had gotten myself into: this shit was hard. Like I mentioned previously, I was hesitant to work out “publically” since I was so down and out about my fitness decline, but I realized quickly that it didn’t really matter; everyone was going at their own pace, some faster, some slower, and it wasn’t really all that obvious who was doing what. So, I hoisted my still-Boston-sore-quads up and down the huge stairs, got high-fives from people I didn’t know, and felt my lungs burn in a way they hadn’t done in months.
At the end, I was completely winded and a-gasp at how these people did this every week. But in almost equal measure, I was hooked.
It was also the first time in 4 months that I was able to exercise without a bathroom break.
I went again the next week. And then the next week. Then I started going twice a week. The hugs continued, the “FUCK YEAH!”s continued, and the more I went…the more enthused I became. I noticed that every single day at work after an NP workout, I had more energy, I was happier, and I was more productive.
I met more people every time I went, and I began to immensely look forward to seeing people that I barely knew outside of 45 minutes twice a week. Not to mention I could feel myself getting fitter, stronger, and more confident in my body that had for so long been disappointing me.
The workouts were addictive, but it was the people – the atmosphere, the hugs, the energy – that kept me coming back for more. Julia described it best when I first started going: November Project is like taking a shot of endorphins right at the beginning of the day; the workouts are good and challenging, but the social aspect is what brings the whole thing to life.
And in hindsight, it was the social element that I needed more than anything else. As a distance runner, I naturally spent a lot of time by myself. I didn’t train with anyone, and generally I enjoyed spending my miles within my own head. However, when you pair this with the fact that, in general, I’m a very introverted (some would say antisocial) person, I wound up spending a lot of time alone. Which I always told myself was fine; I preferred staying in and living the literal translation of “the loneliness of the long distance runner.” What I didn’t realize, however, was just how isolated this left me. I may have told myself over and over that this was who I was, but in reality I was stuck on a comfort-zone island without any hope of someone finding me.
When I got so sick last December, those natural hermit tendencies turned into full-on hibernation. I could barely stand up long enough to put on makeup in the morning, let alone go and see anybody. When I finally started to get better, I spent so long just trying to dig myself out of my sickness ditch that my original running ditch didn’t feel so deep, relatively speaking.
But it was. And I didn’t know just how bad I needed something like November Project until it swept me up with its comfort-zone breaking, f-bomb dropping, literal and figurative all-consuming hug.
Now, almost 7 months after that first gut-busting day in April, I can’t imagine life without Wednesday and Friday mornings with November Project. They’ve become my community, my friends, and those 45 minutes twice a week are always the very best part of my day. Not to mention the weekend trips, the Friday night happy-hour runs, and the very best training partner I could ask for.
We all come from different backgrounds and have different goals, training, and motives. But that’s one of the things I love best; it doesn’t matter who you are or how in or out-of-shape you are – November Project is authentically all-inclusive.
In nine days, I’ll be running the Philadelphia Marathon, and I couldn’t feel more different than I did when I was getting ready to run Boston. The strength and speed improvement is certainly a factor, but more so – my mentality as an athlete has transformed immensely. Dan said it way better than I could:
“What used to be a ball of nerves before a race due to high personal expectations, and quiet reflection post-race, has now become a flurry of pride, passion, and enjoyment. Training used to be a burden: why and I doing this in 20-degree weather? What effect will skipping this run have on my performance? Now through the November Project community, the training part is fun & happens naturally, and the races are wild, joyful parties! There hasn’t been a day that I’ve run or trained alone, because I know that other NP tribesmates are out there doing the same.”
So, to Julia – thank you for bringing me into this community and inspiring me every day to dream bigger, run faster and just show up.
To Dan and Molly – your tribe has rocked my world, and the two of you keep me smiling and digging deeper every week.
And to November Project Denver – you are my family. Thank you for bringing me back to life.