The November Project

Massachusetts / Dec. 19, 2012 / by The Team

Deciding to get fit is an aspiration for us all. Actually following through and working out with consistency is a very different matter. Two guys from Boston started planning simple, free workouts and one year later, an average of 200 people show up to workout with them.

As rowers, Bojan Mandaric and Brogan Graham were no strangers to tough fitness regimens but when they decided to start an exercise schedule to keep themselves fit throughout the winter, they had no idea it would result in group workouts that now attract hundreds of people.

Talking over a beer one day, the two college friends decided that to ensure they kept up with their usual health regimen through the cold Boston winters, they would become each other’s personal coaches.

Mandaric explains that, “It's kind of hard to get your butt out of bed when it's cold out, dark ... so we basically decided to create a schedule, a training schedule, that we'll be holding ourselves accountable for and motivate each other to get out of bed.”
“We don't like working out, it's just the other dude's going to be there,” Graham elaborates, which is exactly the motivation they needed to get themselves out of bed to train on the cold and dark winter mornings in Boston.

The two started their regimen in 2011. “The whole thing was just about trying for a month to set a pattern,” says Graham, “so if we can do this in November, we'll probably be able to take it through the winter. So we said Monday through Friday every morning, just for the month of November, hence November Project, and that's exactly what happened.”

As they worked through their November routine, they started blogging and tweeting about their early-morning accomplishments, which led to an ever-growing following.

“In May, we opened up to the public,” says Mandaric, “and then people seemed to like us, like the personalities, like the people that they're working out with, and they keep coming back.”

Opening it up to the public meant that floods of people would start joining them for their workouts. “As it built its way through the winter, people started saying, 'When are you guys going to the stadium? When are you guys going to the hills?' so we had to straight-face it like we had a plan,” says Graham.

“As people started showing up in the spring, the format kicked in,” he continues. Starting at 6:30 in the morning, three days a week, the workouts take three different forms throughout the week.

On Mondays, which are a recent addition to the schedule, “it's something called Destination Deck,” says Graham. “It's totally weird, it's very flash-mobby, it's hard to follow and that's actually the point. We tweet out the location a few days ahead of time and then have everyone run to that location, do a simple core workout, and then run back to their respective showers.”

Wednesdays consist of a grueling regimen in Harvard Stadium. “There's 37 sections,” explains Mandaric. “We actually go up the seats and then we come down the exit rows of the stairs.”

On the last Wednesday of each month, they do a full tour of the stadium, “which is going up the seats and down the steps, all 37 sections,” says Mandaric. Each time, the runners’ times are recorded to give everyone involved a sense of how much they are improving.

Friday is perhaps the most conventional of their workouts, which they call the hills, "Which is Summit Ave, just running repeats.”
Mandaric and Graham emphasize the fact that their workouts can be done by anybody from someone who could run a marathon to someone who has just come from lying on the couch, with no experience of exercise. They ensure that they coach new recruits through the workouts and help them progress steadily.

Despite the early hour and the adverse weather, their winter workouts attract hundreds of people each morning, with more and more joining as November Project becomes better known throughout the city.

It is the unique aspects of this project that draw such large crowds. Firstly, the workouts run by Mandaric and Graham are completely free, something that, in a world of increasingly expensive gym memberships and exercise classes, is difficult to find.
“This has been there forever,” says Graham. “You can drop and give yourself 20 pushups at any point in your day. We don't because that's weird or whatever but the fact is fitness is always going to be there for free. You can always go for a jog, you can always take your running shoes and come to the stadium but it's more exciting that way and it's more empowering.”

The lack of cost associated with the workouts is coupled with another unique aspect, one that is even more motivating than the economic benefits. “People want more people, people want more community, and so they see someone or they meet someone and they say, 'Are you coming next time?' and we call it the 'verbal commitment',” says Graham.

Mandaric and Graham stress the community aspects of the workout, more even than it being free of charge. “Yes, you can find a running club or a workout club somewhere and you can have a bunch of buddies but you never get 300 people high-fiving, cheering on each other … we feel like that's the biggest driving force to our workouts,” says Mandaric. 

November Project employs a unique tactic that is aimed at ensuring people attend each and every workout. When people say they are going to show up and fail to, photos and an explanation of their reasons or excuses are posted on November Project’s website, on a page aptly entitled, ‘We Missed You.’

The page acts as a reminder to people that, by not showing up to the workout, they have not only let themselves down, but they have let down each and every other person who did attend.

Far from being an attack on those people, it is a fun way to get people as motivated as possible and to remind them that the reason the workout is successful is that everyone acts as each other’s motivational force.

“We don't like working out,” says Graham, “it's just the other dude's going to be there and so when you multiply that by two hundred or three hundred or whatever, however many people show up, it's the accountability thing.”

He continues saying that, “The kick up the pants is a little bit more than across the gym or a gym that you've paid dues to because you can walk away from the money but when you're thinking about the actually faces that you're letting down or the bike gang that you won't meet up with that's going to the workout anyway, and so on, it has a little bit more power. It has a lot more power.”

As Kristen McIntire who has been attending since September 2012 says, “I come here because it's fun and it gets me out of my bed in the morning, it gets me to workout and I get to see all these people do the same thing as me. It's a lot more motivating when there's hundreds of people doing the same thing as you.”

The motivation and energy are contagious enough to make people of all fitness levels get out of bed of their own free will. “Well, let's be honest, nobody really wants to wake up at 6.30 in the morning on a 32 degree day and come work out in weather like this but the fact that there's, at any given workout, 200 other people that are coming to workout and motivate you and push you to do your hardest, that's a great thing," says Steven Christensen, who has been attending since August 2012.

There’s no doubt that it is Mandaric and Graham and their personalities that drive people to get up at such an early hour. The cheers that resound around the stadium as each person who arrives is greeted are hard to ignore and are bested only by the yells that emanate from the opposite side of the stadium when someone finishes a tour.

“We like to think that we work and train harder than everyone,” says Graham, “but more importantly, we like to think that we're having more fun than everyone. So if you look around at two hundred people, a hundred people, three hundred people, at the end of a workout and they're all shaking each other's hands, high-fiving and hugging it out, there's not a bar, club, social meet-up, gathering like this happening anywhere.”

To find out more about the November Project, visit their website, follow them on Twitter, and Facebook.