Moving to a new city is tough, especially when you know very few or no people in it. I’ve done this twice. The first time completely by myself when I moved to Baltimore, Maryland after college. The second time with Mike when we moved to London.
Each move had its own challenges.
In Baltimore, figuring out where to park so my car wouldn’t get a) a ticket or b) broken into was a particularly fun exercise at the end of a long work day (I never really figured this out – shout out to residents of Fells Point!). Choosing the best weekend breakfast spot (Sip & Bite in Fells Point – get the Crab Benedict) was, conversely, a welcomed challenge.
When we moved to London, simply figuring out which order to perform basic life set-up tasks in – open a bank account, get a cell phone number, find a flat to live in – was ulcer-inducing. Understanding British English was more fun, and I’m still learning how to translate (the “sidewalk” is the “pavement” and the “pavement” is the “tarmac”, never ever say “fanny” or “suspenders” especially to your boss, and I’m embarrassed to admit I now catch myself saying “rubbish” instead of “trash”).
During both moves, I did have a similar worry – whether I / we would make new friends. And both times, I found a built in community in the same unlikely place – a free fitness movement called November Project.
How I Found November Project
I was originally introduced to November Project by my friend Kirsten. When I arrived in Baltimore, I moved in with Kirsten and two other girls my age that I met on Craig’s List. We never met in person before I moved in with them (Mike and I also didn’t live together before we were married; boy, I really take a leap of faith with my living partners!).
All four of us got on well immediately, probably in part because we all had a few key interests in common. One of those interests was running. We went to some group runs together, drove out to walking trails on the weekends, and even did a 5K race together at the Raven’s football stadium which was as epic as it sounds.
One evening, Kirsten came home and announced that the next morning she was waking up at 5:00AM to drive over to Rash Field to run stairs with some energetic guy she’d met, Nick, and his friends. He was trying to start some new fitness group called November Project, and he wanted more people to join in.
I probably should have asked, Why are you driving to meet strange people to run in the dark, in Baltimore??
Instead I asked, “Can I come?”
The next morning, after stumbling out of bed and rolling into Kirsten’s car bleary eyed, we drove through the empty streets of the Inner Harbor and arrived at Rash Field to find a group of brightly clad individuals bouncing around in a small circle. We apprehensively approached the group, and between chants of “GOOD MORNING! YA’LL GOOD?? F**K YEAH!!”, the leader of the bounce motioned for us to join the circle and begin bouncing as well. Kirsten and I shrugged at each other, entered the circle, and surrendered ourselves to this circle of energy beaming on the streets of Baltimore at 5:30 in the morning.
After an incredibly challenging workout complete with burpees, stair circuits, and high fives, Nick, the leader of the pack, explained November Project to those of us that were new and slightly confused.
What is November Project?
November Project started several years ago in Boston, when two crazy ex-rowers were feeling unmotivated and unaccountable in their post-college fitness routines. In November, just as the ice that blankets Boston from March through April began creeping over the city, these two guys decided to commit to each other, or “verbal”, to meet at the Harvard Stadium before sunrise. There, in the dark, they would run the full circuit of stadium stairs. One by one, through word of mouth and social media, the other crazy residents of Boston crawled out from the warmth of their beds every Wednesday morning before the sun hit the Charles to join this free fitness movement. Soon, the movement spread to other cities, and now, Nick was bringing it to Baltimore.
The only other things we really needed to know about November Project:
- It was FREE.
- We were encouraged to bring friends, as many friends as possible. EVERYONE was welcome.
- You didn’t have to be fast, or strong, a former athlete, or competitive by nature. You simply had to #justshowup and give the workout a go.
Kirsten and I started showing up every Wednesday at 5:30AM (there was a 6:30AM group as well, but our jobs prevented us from being part of that group), and each new Wednesday, the “tribe” was a little bit bigger and a little bit bouncier.
These workouts became a fixture in my weekly routine, and even if I didn’t see the other members outside of those dark workouts at dawn, I looked forward to their smiles and encouragement. During a year that should have been stressful due to long distance wedding planning and work travel, November Project became a grounding fixture in my week where I could challenge myself and get a few hugs and high fives while I was at it.
Finding Community in a New Home
The wedding and our move to London came quickly, and of course I was incredibly excited to start this new life, yet I was disappointed to leave November Project behind.
But the world is small and crazy coincidences do happen, and our first week in London, Mike and I found ourselves living in a flat directly across the street from a girl I grew up with and her new husband, who had moved to London seven days after us. (Yeah…like I said, crazy coincidences happen.) She and I didn’t know each other well when we were growing up since she’s a couple of years older, but the shared connection of our childhood brought us together. We started having coffee a few times a week to support each other through the exciting but stressful moving process. It turned out that she and her husband had been committed attendees of November Project Boston, and they were looking to start it in London.
Fast forward two and a half plus years now, and November Project London is thriving thanks to Tica and her husband Jake, and so many other people that have helped grow it to what it is today.
Living in a foreign country, or even simply a new city, is of course exhilarating. But it’s also daunting and can feel lonely, even if you’ve made the move knowing other people. In my move to Baltimore, and especially in our move to London, November Project has instantly provided me with a community of people Mike and I can truly count on to show up, not just every Wednesday, but in our life. I’m in awe that a free fitness group is what’s grounded me in two brand new cities.
What’s My Favorite Thing About November Project?
Aside from the fact that it’s given us this community, I love that NP provides me stability in my workout routine. Recently, I’ve been feeling sluggish and unmotivated during the rest of the week. My long runs have turned into interval walk-runs, and I’ve fallen back on slow morning yoga in lieu of my usual weight lifting. I’ve accepted that this lull is OK, everyone goes through slow periods in their fitness. I’ll come out of it with energy on the other side and get back to my usual habits. In the meantime, NP sits on my calendar, every Wednesday morning as an opportunity to challenge myself in an otherwise slow workout week. The energy of my friends and fellow athletes at NP fuels those early mornings, and I find myself sprinting just a little bit faster when other NPers are running with a smile next to me.
Is it Culty?
When I try to convince other Londoners to #justshowup, aside from the scoff at the early start time, the other reaction I can count on is, That just sounds like a fitness cult. Absolutely, like any other group of like-minded individuals that will don neon spandex to ride the Night Bus and show up to exercise with a group, it can be culty.
But it doesn’t have to be. Some members (like my husband) only show up on Wednesdays for the workout and don’t feel the need to participate in anything else that comes with NP if you want it to (beer runs, pub crawls, Thursday socials). NP is what you want it to be, and you definitely don’t need to know anyone else to show up. We’re a pretty welcoming bunch.
Do You Have to be Peppy and an Athlete to Participate?
Absolutely not. I mean, have you MET my husband (in regards to the peppy part)?! I repeat, NP is what you want it to be. I show up every week for the community support, the structure in my workout routine, and to see the great friends I’ve made there. Mike, the misanthrope that he is, certainly doesn’t show up for the hugs with strangers. He shows up for the challenge. Every time he comes, Al and Steve are pushing him to be his fastest self, and his competitive nature keeps bringing him back so that one week he just may catch one of them.
So What’s My Point?
My point is this: whether you’re moving to a new city, or you just feel stagnant in your current one, if you’re looking for a challenge, or you just want to make some new friends, the free fitness community is a great place to start. You may just find yourself running a beer mile in a costume with a bunch of Brits in a London Park, or playing kickball in Baltimore’s Patterson park with a whole new group of friends. So put yourself out there and #justshow up to something new. If November Project is that something new, even better!