Running Stairs with the November Project

This past Friday morning, my alarm clock started blaring at 5:45am – much earlier than usual. I had decided to check out the November Project, a free community workout held over near the University of Minnesota boathouse on Friday mornings.

(They also meet on Wednesday mornings between the Mill City Museum and Guthrie Theater.)

The meeting time was a very specific 6:27 AM and so I hauled my butt out of bed, splashed my face with some water and headed over to check it out.

I first read about the November Project in Outside Magazine back in 2013. The article explained how a grassroots fitness community grew out of two former college rowers doing workouts together to keep each other motivated.

They would run stairs together and slowly and surely the group got larger and larger thanks to word of mouth and social media. Eventually, the idea spread way beyond the Boston area.

Today, according to their website, November Project is “now present in multiple cities in across four time zones in North America, the movement is using a simple sense of accountability to motivate and encourage people of all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels to get out of their beds and get moving.”

My Granite Games teammate Nick met me in the parking lot near the boathouse. It had rained the night before and the sky was still a bit overcast and gray.

There were about a dozen young twenty-somethings in workout gear gathering together. Among the group was a familiar face – Jake from my CrossFit gym – who randomly was also their for the first time too.

Nick and I were greeted by Ben, Cyndi and Holly. They skipped handshakes and went straight for a hug to say hello and welcome us.

A quick warm-up lap and then we all met at the set of stairs that lead down from East River Parkway to the boathouse, which the group affectionately call “King Kong.”

There Ben, the charismatic ringleader, who had brought the November Project to Minneapolis, explained the day’s workout.

The workout was as many rounds as possible for 33 minutes of the following:

  • Run all the way up to the top of the stairs and back down (300 steps total)
  • Run half-way up and back down (150 steps total)
  • Run all the way up to the top of the stairs and back down (300 steps total)
  • X number of Burpees
  • X number of Hoistees

When you got to the burpees and the hoistees, you were to find a partner to do them with.

You could choose whatever number you wanted to start at for the first round, and then add 2 to that number for every subsequent round.

Hoistees were new to me and Nick and led to much comedic effect. You and your partner had to grab each other’s hands, lower yourselves down until your butt touched the ground and then stand back up and jump.

Our timing was off on the first few attempts, but eventually we got into the rhythm. Ben encouraged everyone to loudly yell “hoistees!” with each rep.

That enthusiasm, which started with the hugs at the beginning, was maintained throughout. It was hot and sweaty and totally exhausting.

My calves and quads were burning with every step. But people were constantly high-fiving and telling each other “great job” and “keep going” as they passed each other on the stairs.

At the end of the workout, we all got into a 1-minute plank position and we were instructed to maintain eye contact with someone else.

The workout was about more than just yourself. It was about connecting with the community. When time was up, it was a round of applause and more sweaty hugs.

To some it could seem off-putting, even cult-ish. To me, this group has organically created an atmosphere of “Yes!” that I have found to be a great approach to life.

It was a really tough workout but so satisfying. I completed 4 rounds, which equals 3,000 steps or approximately 250 flights of stairs.

It’s hard not to feel good about your day when you start it with that kind of energy and output.

I’ll be headed back this Friday. You should join me.

Latest posts by Jeremy (see all)