People and Places

November Project offers free, fun fitness sessions (at 6:29 am)

6:17 a.m.: TD Place is cold and dark and empty and I haven’t finished my coffee. I have regrets.

6:21 a.m.: People are starting to gather at the Aberdeen Pavilion so get out of my car and pay for parking.

6:23 a.m.: The crowd grows, people are high-fiving and hugging.

6:27 a.m.: Leaders Liz and Lauren are greeting everyone – by name – with more hugs and high fives.

6:29 a.m.: We bounce.

After the opening team huddle, bounce, and cheer, any regrets I had about getting out of bed for a November Project session were forgotten.

November Project participants (during warmer times) take on the stairs at TD Place

So what is the November Project?

The story goes back to 2011, on a cold November day in Boston, when a couple of guys (founders Brogan Graham and Bojan Manderic) decided they wanted to encourage people to continue with their fitness goals outdoors, even as temperatures began to plunge below zero. They quickly decided it should be free, accessible to anyone who showed up, and held on Wednesdays.

This free community workout became known as the November Project — and it spread around the world with chapters popping up in Europe, Asia, and all over North America.

But in order to have a chapter in your city, there needs to be an individual (or individuals) willing to dedicate themselves to overseeing the program. Enter fitness fans Elizabeth Mackenzie and Lauren Carter, who started the series at Parliament Hill last winter before relocating to Lansdowne earlier this year.

Carter who sat down to answer some questions about this unique workout approach (and how to stay motivated through the winter).

Camaraderie is a big part of the November Project, which still occasionally meets at Parliament Hill. Photo by Ben Holland

What made you want to bring the November Project to Ottawa?
“After I experienced the November Project in Edmonton and the November Project Summit at Blue Mountain, I saw the positivity, the connections, and the community of people who gathered and exuded energy and excitement. I wondered how many people had been positively impacted by the community and knew Ottawa needed one.”

Carter brought Mackenzie on board to pledge NovPro in January of 2017, but membership is not so instantaneous. The girls had to prove their dedication, build their own following and community, and show that Ottawa had potential before being able to use the name.

“We worked out with about six to 10 brave souls through that winter, told everyone we knew — who all thought we were crazy. We kept at it because we had a vision we knew people would see eventually. The turning point was April — some warmer mornings, a CBC news article, and some influence outside of our immediate community groups.”

On May 2, 2017, the girls were surprised by a visit from co-founder, Bojan Manderic, who flew to Ottawa to officially welcome them into the November Project.

“It was awesome.”

November Project keeps sessions accessible to all ages and skill levels.

Why is it important to continue physical activity outdoors, even as it gets colder?
“November to April is pretty darn cold and it would be easy to say you’re not going to work out outside during that time, but that’s a lot of months to be cooped up. We like to celebrate the variety of weather we get and take pride in being able to show up no matter what the Weather Network says. It’s a badge of honour to start your day in -30. We can’t do much to control the weather; we can only control how we respond to it.”

How do you keep people coming back?
“It really is an awesome way to start the day. It’s pretty easy to be outside only to get in and out of your car, from your house, to the office. It gets you outside and moving which keeps you warm enough to enjoy the outdoors, fresh air, and 50 other people before you head out to take on the day.”

“Although there is no cost, it’s still an investment of time — a little less sleep, a drive, plans to shower, packing breakfast and lunch, a different workout than usual — and people want to feel they are spending their time well. You want to create an environment that people want to come back to and that’s worth that investment of time.”

How would you transition your active wear wardrobe as the temperature drops?
“It’s a bit of an art form and takes some practice. You don’t necessarily need high-tech gear, but we recommend layers, that you can take off when you start to warm up, and put back on quickly after the workout. Layers, solid and waterproof gloves, and a plan for getting dry clothes on right after the workout are key. We write a blog every week and sometimes talk about ideas people in the community have come up with to master this area.”

“Liz’s go to is: if you’re a little chilled in the parking lot, you’re doing it right. Once you begin to move, your body temperature heats up quite quickly.”  

As temperatures drop, layering is key. Photo by Ben Holland.

How do you make it accessible for all ages and fitness levels?
“The goal is to create a safe and welcoming environment, no matter what your background, fitness level, age, pace, et cetera — whether someone is an ultra-marathon runner, or new to exercise, there is a place for everyone. Every workout has options to make the movements more or less challenging — as much as people want to get out of it. It’s challenge by choice and we tell people that they woke up for a reason, so they may as well go for it — whatever that looks like for them. On the stairs you can get an awesome workout walking for 30 minutes. If you have more experience, you may run.”

What do you hope your participants are taking away from NovPro?
“That people leave feeling better than when they came, that it’s worth getting up out of your warm bed to show up.”

“We hope people leave spreading kindness and positivity to others they interact with throughout their day. We hope that people realize the difference they may be making for one person at the workout, who they introduce themselves to, who they encouraged, who they pushed a little harder, who they shared a coffee and meaningful connection with after the workout.

Just show up
The motto “just show up” encourages people to keep it simple. Every Wednesday, the same start time (6:29 a.m.) the same end time (7 a.m.), and the location, usually at TD Place, always posted on the Facebook (November Project Ottawa), Instagram (@Novemberprojectottawa), and Twitter (@novprojectyow) the day before.

Set your alarms, see you Wednesday.

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