Fitness Class Review: The November Project DC

The free workout draws large crowds to the Lincoln Memorial every Wednesday morning.

The November Project meets every Wednesday at the Lincoln Memorial at 6:30 AM. The workout is free. Photograph by Melissa Romero.

As my alarm goes off at 5:30 AM on Wednesday, I groggily ask myself, “Why do you do this to yourself?”

“This” being commit to running stairs at the Lincoln Memorial at 6:30 AM in 38-degree weather. Over. And over. And over.

But if that makes me a glutton for punishment, I’m in good company as I gather with 65 or so other folks dressed in winter workout gear chatting at the foot of the memorial, giving out hugs like they’ve known each other for years.

We’ve gotten ourselves out of bed for the free morning workout called the November Project, which is drawing huge crowds to the stairs week after week despite the increasingly frigid temperatures and dark mornings. It’s the most recent outpost of the Boston-based “grassroots morning workout tribe” that was developed in November 2011 by Bojan Mandaric and Brogan Graham. The two former college athletes came up with the idea of flash-mob-esque workouts after deciding they missed team camaraderie and needed an extra push to exercise during the winter months.

November Project DC debuted October 22 and is led by the enthusiastic duo Steve and Dan, who start each morning session with a huddle, a round of hugs for newcomers, and a few friendly choruses of “F*CK YEAH!” Each workout is different, but running is always involved. Today, we’re told, we’ll perform the Fireman 5 workout, during which we break into groups of four and run the 87 stairs continuously for 40 minutes. Every few minutes we’re ordered to find our group to do five pushups and five burpees together.

We’re off after one final “F*ck Yeah!” and begin our trek just as the sun begins to rise. Katie, a member of my team and a former collegiate rower says, “That view alone makes waking up at 6 AM worthwhile.”

It’s clear after a few rounds of stairs why the November Project is such a success, despite sounding like the last thing anyone would want to do before the sun has risen: There’s not a ounce of negativity within the group, nor will anyone call you out for stopping for a water break or walking down a set of stairs to catch your breath. Sure, there’s the avid runner who will lap others multiple times, but not without shouting a few words of encouragement in their direction. Even the project’s “We missed you” posts on Facebook, in which organizers single out a participant for not making it to a Wednesday workout, are cheerful and earnest. And they work: After November Project DC called out Ivan on November 6, the Brazilian husky made an appearance at yesterday’s workout. 

At the end of the session, we get to know our new friends even more by squatting together in a circle, sitting our bums on one another’s already tightening quads. And then with one final round of hugs and goodbyes, the group disbands with promises to see each other next week.

After all, no one wants to be the face of the next “We missed you” column.

The November Project. 2 Lincoln Memorial Circle, NW. Every Wednesday at 6:30 AM. Free.