The November Project


Bounce, swear, sweat and hug strangers…all before work.

When most women consider getting in shape for the summer, they think about gym memberships or costly trainers. But what if there was a way to stay fit, meet new people and not pay a penny?

The November Project is a free fitness movement that launched November 2011 in Boston and has since spread to 17 cities across the nation, keeping people fit even during the coldest months. Brent Cunningham, marketing outreach manager at New Balance in Chicago, started the local chapter back in March. The eight-week pledge process to become an official chapter started when temperatures dipped into the low single digits, proving the group weatherproof and resilient to even the worst conditions. “I don’t think you should have to pay a leader to tell you to run fast or slow,” he says. “It’s our right to have a free fitness movement in Chicago, and that’s why I started it.”

Individuals of all ages and athletic abilities are encouraged to get out of bed every Wednesday morning, using what the website calls a “simple sense of verbal accountability” to motivate them to start their day off right by making a healthy choice. The workout begins at the north steps of the Field Museum every Wednesday morning promptly at 6:28am. There’s no explanation behind the start time, but it sure encourages members to get there on time wondering, “Why not 6:30?” Members are encouraged to interact with and hug complete strangers before the 45-minute workout, making it “almost impossible to come and not meet 20 new people,” says Mr. Cunningham, one of two co-leaders of the Chicago chapter.

Chicago’s November Project is already a success with more and more people showing up every week. Mr. Cunningham and co-leader Ryan McDonald set up both time- and effort-based workouts to see how far each person can go. “Some [participants] are former collegiate athletes that can run a 15-minute 5K, but we also have folks that may have never run a day in their life,” explains Mr. Cunningham.

Members communicate by joining the November Project Facebook group or chatting via Twitter. They make ‘verbal’ commitments to the group and say they’ll show up, rain or shine, on Wednesday, thereby holding themselves accountable for staying in shape.

“You workout, sweat and get in better shape,” insists Jenny Farrell, a member of the November Project Chicago chapter. “People are just excited you show up; it doesn’t matter if you go every week or it’s your first time. Actually, if it’s your first time we’re really excited.” To newbies, Mr. Cunningham says to just do what you can. “We’re going to get behind you and push you a little bit, but you can basically make it as hard as you want it to be.” Every workout is different and includes several activities such as hill and stair workouts, push-ups and sit-ups, partner relays and running. Leaders meet at checkpoints to ensure everyone stays together and no one gets left in the dust.

“It’s supposed to be an equalizer and immediate icebreaker,” says Ms. Farrell. “You’re not just standing off to the side…everyone’s on an even field. You might be hugging an Olympian but guess what, you’re assured a hug. As soon as I told someone, ‘Hi I’m new,’ they started introducing me to everybody.”

The last Wednesday of every month, members find their personal records on a spread sheet that the co-leaders manage. They’re able to track their progress to see how well they’re doing and how far they’ve come. In the end, the November Project provides a killer, cost-efficient workout to anyone and everyone willing to make the healthy decision to come and get moving. Their motto? “Just show up.”

By Megan Bedford | Andrew Stott Photographs


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