It’s 6:28am Monday morning and I’m sprinting downhill for the first time after a two mile uphill battle through the mean streets of Brighton. The Boston Marathon set-up crew is locking in barricades up and down Comm Ave, and I manage to squeeze through just in the nick of time, eyes focused on the massive crowd of people in workout gear gathered at the base of the incline. I make it to the group and position myself on the outside of the huddle just as the leaders direct everyone to circle the perimeter of a nearby baseball diamond for warm-up laps. Before I know it, I’m dropping enthusiastic f-bombs before 7 a.m.; but not before hugging at least 10 strangers and being directed to do 100 push-ups.
I first heard about November Project (referred to as NP from hereon out) from the Runner’s World December issue. Missing my running buddy and expansive social circle back home, it sounded like the perfect remedy to the lack of community I was experiencing in Boston. Being no stranger to speed workouts on the nearby Harvard Track, I had no idea such a massive grassroots movement was taking place less than half a mile from my front door. My excitement immediately turned to disappointment when I saw the 6:30 a.m. meeting time. Before you judge me, 6:30 a.m. is actually too late for me. I’m already one foot out the door by that time, preparing to do my duty with America’s future. NP advertises a not-so-secret 5:30 a.m. group at the Harvard Stadium on Wednesdays, but being my father’s daughter, I live in fear of leaving the house alone in the dark, especially on a routine basis allowing ill-willed creatures to track my habits. I spent the rest of the winter months traveling, baking, sulking, and running alone. I nearly forgot about NP until spring break hit and for once I was actually staying in Boston for the full week. I finally had a chance to see for myself what the grassroots buzz is all about!
Wednesday morning as I jog down North Harvard I wonder how I haven’t ever noticed the long line of cars turning into the stadium parking lot. My legs are already sore from the uphill running of Monday, followed by a number of squats and deadlifts on Tuesday; but I’m optimistic the energy of the group will get me through this daunting workout. The tribe, as they call themselves, meets at the far end of the stadium in Section 37, where they run up through the stands and down the steep stairs between each section, all the way to Section 1 on the opposite side. After a group huddle and a few “Fuck Yeahs,” Brogan Graham, the charismatic leader also known as BG, calls for all the “newbies” to meet him back outside. He tells us about his Midwestern roots, the importance of eye contact, encourages another round of hugs, then tells us we absolutely cannot stop. Use the way down to gather yourself, but don’t stop. When one person stops, everyone else gets the message they can stop too, ruining the energy driving the group. This time, and this time only, we get to stop halfway at Section 19.
Back inside at Section 37, BG dismisses the newbies in groups of 10. My first two sections I foolishly run on the way up, but my body reminds me this is an exercise in endurance, so I shift my focus. I push through my heels on each upswing, making sure to feel the burn in my glutes and hamstrings. I find comfort in counting the steps on my way up, taking the sections one at a time in the same way I run a marathon. After a few sections, a woman named Cyndi introduces herself to me, and we chat until I hear my name called out from one section over. Lauren, one of my high school lacrosse teammates and fellow Chicagoan living in Boston, has joined me at the stadium after very little convincing at the marathon Monday afternoon. I introduce Lauren and Cyndi and we keep climbing. At this point, my legs are undeniably shaking on the way down, and I’m mad I didn’t set my Nike Running app to find out the mileage equivalent of the stairs.
On my way up I count 31 stairs in each section. On my way down I hold my arms out at my sides and when possible, grab a railing to avoid tumbling down the narrow concrete steps. I see a girl in front of me almost slow to a stop and I give her a “Let’s go, you got this,” in the same way I’ve heard many others offer encouragement. This isn’t the place for picking off competitors one at a time and racing to the top. Your only competition is yourself, and everyone else is there to cheer you on. Your only job is to do the same. It’s hard to have anything but a positive attitude when the sun is shining, the Harvard football team is practicing on the field below, and Juvenile is on blast thanks to the DJ in Section 19. I finish and my legs are shaking even though I’m sitting. My thoughts immediately fast forward to next week, wondering how many more sections I’ll be able to complete. NP is growing on me.
Friday morning I’m so excited (maybe terrified) about meeting up with the tribe for hills on Summit Ave, I’m awake well before my alarm goes off. This time I get to drive to the workout destination, and rightfully so. I make a left onto Summit Ave from Allston Street and I can’t even see the top of the hill. What the… FUCK YEAH. I keep driving, mindful not to park on Summit Ave, creeping my way up and scoping out the scene. I reach the summit and see the tribe already forming at Corey Hill Outlook Park. This is the point where I realize I was previously on the less steep side of the hill. I find a parking spot on Beacon Street on the opposite end of the hill and it takes me over 10 minutes to climb back up to the top. As I make my way up to the group, I hear the panting of people around me, some walking, some already running. I make a promise to myself to go with the flow; no expectations just live in the moment.
At the top of the hill we’re split up by gender, middle school dance style. We meet in the center for high-fives before tackling opposite sides of the hill, women head toward Beacon, men toward Allston. As the workout continues, paces balance out and the crowd gets mixed back together. I’m cautious not to run too fast on the downhill and use this as an opportunity to practice control. I learn which parts of the hill are runnable for me, and which parts are more conducive to walking lunges (not by choice). For much of the Beacon side, I can barely stand upright, let alone run, but I keep moving. I’ve always taken pride in my ability to tackle hills, but I’ve never met a hill like this before. I’ve dragged Lauren to this workout as well, and even though I’m more lost in my thoughts than ever, I’m able to catch her eye at every turnaround for a quick (and silent, out of respect for the residents of Summit Ave) fist pump and “woohoo!”
The Summit Ave workout calls for 4 rounds totaling 4 miles. The cut-off time is 7:25 a.m., and as I reach the top on my last couple rounds, tribe members who’ve already finished are perched along the sidewalk offering more high-fives and positive vibes. The attitude here isn’t “I’m done, you’re on your own.” We start together and we finish together, with announcements, shout-outs, a positivity award, and a group photo at the end of each workout. I proudly raised my hand when they called for anyone who finished the full four miles for the first time. Bojan, the other leader of the Boston tribe, encourages the group to keep coming whether they made it up the hill once or all four times. The growth-mindset and strong sense of community is thrilling, exactly what I needed to help reset my training this spring.
Even though I return to work tomorrow and will be unable to attend the 6:30 a.m. NP workouts, I’m hoping to keep the positivity alive. With two Ragnar relays in the next month, and a potential fall marathon in the works, I need all the help I can get! While I won’t be in Boston this summer to train with the tribe here, I found out there is a pledge tribe looking to gain traction in Chicago with just over 100 members in the group. Led by Brent Cunningham, they meet Wednesday mornings at 6:28 a.m. at the Field Museum underpass. Join the Facebook group for updates on meeting location, rain or shine! Not in Boston or Chicago? No problem! Check out the NP website to locate a tribe in your area. Get with the movement. Fuck yeah!