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At pre-dawn ‘November Project,’ Seattleites make friends & break a sweat

“There’s a joke about the Seattle Freeze. It’s people moving here and having a hard time making friends. We like to say that we’re unfreezing Seattle.” — Brian Fisher, November Project.

At exactly 6:29 a.m. at Gas Works Park, Brian Fisher and his co-leader Casey Winkler begin their routine. The big group of people standing in a circle around them start bouncing, chanting and shouting. Then they follow instructions to give “hips-in hugs” – those are what they call full body hugs – to three people they haven’t met before. Brian still remembers the first time he got those hugs.

“The first embrace is kinda like, whoa, I wasn’t expecting that. The second was, oh, this is a thing. The third is like, yeah, I’m into this,” he said. “I had this feeling of, ‘I don’t know anyone’s name yet but I feel like I belong.’”

In the winter months, most November Project workouts are in the dusky early morning light. But that means they usually catch a great sunrise.
In the winter months, most November Project workouts are in the dusky early morning light. But that means they usually catch a great sunrise. Photo by Jonathan Rosenberry

Brian and Casey are co-leaders of The November Project, a free group workout that happens Wednesdays at Gas Works Park and Fridays in different parks around the city.

The November Project started five years ago in November in Boston when a couple of guys wanted to hold each other accountable for a month’s worth of workouts. Then other people started to join, and soon the spreadsheet they’d labeled “November Project” to track their workouts became a thing. Today there are November Project “tribes” in 29 cities around the world. Seattle became the 23rd city to join last August.

In warmer months, at least 100 people show up to every workout. And even as it gets darker and colder out, Brian guesses that about 70 to 80 people still show up regularly.

Brian and Casey try to design the workouts for all ages at any fitness level – elite athletes and people who don’t consider themselves to be in good shape. It’s all about making the workouts fun and different while also keeping them simple enough to explain to a large group, Brian said.

For this workout, each person had to randomly pick a card from a deck of cards placed face down at the top of Kite Hill at Gas Works Park.
For this workout, each person had to randomly pick a card from a deck of cards placed face down at the top of Kite Hill at Gas Works Park. Photo by Brian Fisher

Full disclosure: I (Anika) went to a few of these workouts earlier this year. I certainly do not fall in the elite athlete category – I really hate running and haven’t really consistently worked out since high school. But I loved the creativity of the workouts. Like the one morning at Gas Works Park when they spread out a deck of cards face down and each person chose a card and did an exercise that corresponded to the card’s suit.

If you’re reading this and thinking how awkward it would be to work out with a group of total strangers, I hear you. But that’s kind of what’s cool about the workouts. They’re designed so that if you show up consistently, you get to know people over time. And given how hard it can be to “friend date in your thirties,” as Brian put it, seeing people on a regular basis is a pretty great way to build new friendships.

Brian Fisher (left) and Casey Winkler (right) pose for a photo at the top of Kite Hill at Gas Works Park.
Brian Fisher (left) and Casey Winkler (right) pose for a photo at the top of Kite Hill at Gas Works Park. Photo by Aljohn Gaviola

“You wake up and might wanna hit snooze,” he said. “But you get out of bed because you know there are people there expecting to see you and they’re gonna ask you what happened if you didn’t show up. That accountability is a really strong part of our culture.”

At the end of each workout, which always wraps up by 7:30 a.m., everyone huddles for a group shot that they’ll later tag themselves in on Facebook. It’s just another way Brian and Casey are trying to get people connected.

“As any city grows and the culture shifts, I think it’s important to have spaces where we can connect with people in person, and find a common bond of being active,” Brian said. “People show up for the workout when they first come. And they wind up staying because of the community.”

The November Project celebrated its one year anniversary in Seattle in August.
The November Project celebrated its one year anniversary in Seattle in August. Photo by Brian Fisher

Want to learn more about The November Project? Here’s their site, their Facebook page and their Instagram account.