Trisha Aoki hates mornings and despises working out. Yet, on Friday she was up early, stretching in front of the Golden Gate Bridge before sunrise and preparing to run up a flight of stairs and along a trail at Crissy Field in San Francisco.
“It’s a good way to push myself out of my comfort zone,” said Aoki, 31, who lives in Arlington, Va., and was one of about 30 people participating in a “November Project” workout.
As more people arrived early Friday, the sounds of the waves lapping against the shore were drowned out by excited greetings, hugs and friendly introductions. Members of the San Francisco tribe, or chapter, of the November Project meet three times a week at 6:30 a.m. to do running workouts around the city. This morning, they chose the famous bridge as a backdrop.
Around 6:35, one of the leaders called the group together to identify the first-time participants and hand out “newbie necklaces.” Then, another leader started a call-and-response warm-up chant before starting the run.
“What are we?”
“Mobile, agile, hostile!”
“What is pain?”
“What is fatigue?”
The November Project was started by two Boston men in 2011 — in the month of November — as a way to stay in shape during the winter. It now has 49 chapters around the world and many of its members, like Aoki, like to drop into local groups when they travel.
The November Project differentiates itself from other fitness groups in that the workout sessions not only promote fitness, but friendship and inclusion. Anyone can show up to a workout and the group members plan outings in addition to the runs to socialize and do community service.
“We’re like a fitness group, a church group and a book club wrapped up in a group that likes to move their bodies and have fun,” said Josh Zipin, one of the San Francisco group’s leaders. “We’re not just committed to helping people get fit, but we’re built on community.”
Many of the participants on Friday were in their 20s and 30s and first learned about the group through a friend or family member, illustrating the importance of community to expand the group’s reach. Members join for the workout and come back for the camaraderie and positivity.
Ed Nuñez, 23, moved to San Francisco seven months ago from Minneapolis and knew he wanted to get to know the city and find people who liked to run. Nuñez heard about the November Project through another running group and thought it sounded like a cult.
“One thing I knew about being new to the city is if I really want to meet people, the best thing to do is join a cult,” he said.
Nuñez now calls some of the people he’s met through the November Project his best friends.
One newcomer Friday was Eli Schwadron. Visiting San Francisco from Maryland, Schwadron said Zipin “roped him into” joining the group for a run. Schwadron remarked about how positive an attitude all the members had.
“When everyone’s upbeat and positive, it goes a long way,” Schwadron said. He plans to meet up with the D.C. tribe when he goes back.
Out of the 49 chapters around the world, November Project San Francisco was the third to be established, in 2013. Every Monday, the group convenes at Dolores Park, Wednesdays are at Alta Plaza Park and each Friday is a new location. The group sponsored a water station at the San Francisco Marathon in July and is planning a cleanup at Alta Plaza Park on Sept. 8. They’ve done runs at Buena Vista Park, a ghost trail in San Francisco National Cemetery, a course at Mount Davidson and a stair workout at the Vallejo Street steps.
Group leaders plan the workouts and incorporate incentives to motivate participants and keep the atmosphere lighthearted. During the Aug. 22 workout, runners could complete burpees to earn water balloons to throw at the leaders. On Monday, group leader Ali Fauci designed a dance-inspired workout.
“We want it to be hard but we want people to have a social way to wake up and work out,” Fauci said. “The goal is to make everyone feel like they can show up.”
Fauci even brought her parents to Friday’s workout. Wednesdays typically see the largest group, from 50 to 70 people, Fauci said, while Mondays and Fridays usually see around 30 participants.
Friday’s workout ends with a group photo, conversations with missed friends and newcomers, and more hugs.