Just before 6:30 on a Friday morning, the temperature is barely 5 degrees. Factor in the biting, constant wind and it feels more like 5 below.
Wearing just thin jackets, sweatshirts and skin-tight spandex pants, none of us are dressed to be standing around outside.
But we won’t be standing around for long — we’re here to run. And do push-ups. And sit-ups. And burpees. Outside. In the cold.
Known as the November Project, these exercise enthusiasts pride themselves on their outdoor workouts, despite the elements. Rain or shine, in blizzards and blistering heat, they’re out in it, working up a sweat year-round.
“No matter what it’s like outside, we’re here,” says Nicole Martin, a UW-Madison graduate school student and one of the group’s two volunteer leaders. “We’re weatherproof.”
The Madison chapter of the November Project has been meeting every Wednesday on Bascom Hill and Friday at the Capitol for these early-morning workouts since 2013. The free fitness movement, which started with a group in Boston in 2011, has spread around the globe and is now in more than 30 cities.
To begin the 45-minute workout, we huddle together tightly and, upon instructions from Martin and co-leader Moriah Cosigny, a UW nursing student, start to bounce. As we’re all hopping up and down like off-tempo pistons, the chanting begins. “ARE WE READY?!?!” Cosigny and Martin ask. We yell back in encouraging expletives.
Once fully revved up, we take off, racing around the Capitol Square for a warm-up lap. The more seasoned runners carry on light conversations about their cars and music, while the rest of us just try to keep up.
At the end of our loop, we’re told today’s routine: first, we’ll race to the Capitol doors and pair up with someone of similar speed. Then, we’ll couple up with another pair and alternate between running the Capitol steps and racing around the Square.
When running the steps, we mix in jump squats, planks and a variation of sit-ups known as “crunchy frogs.” After about 30 minutes we end — fairly exhausted but only slightly frozen — and come back together for a group photo.
Through it all, people encourage one another with high-fives and shouts of “you got this” and “let’s go” or “good pace.” It’s that team mentality that keeps most in the group coming back week after week. In fact, they even call themselves a tribe.
“If I miss a workout, I’ll get five texts about it from people in the group,” says Indy Stluka, a 29-year-old program manager who’s lost 70 pounds since he joined the group last August.
“Gyms are boring,” adds Stluka’s exercise partner and close friend, DA Dirks, a 47-year-old UW System employee from Canada. “Seeing my friends is what motivates me to come back.”
The group often celebrates with coffee after the workouts. They also do charity runs and hang out together, sometimes meeting up for a beer or catching a movie.
“You get to meet people you wouldn’t normally come across,” says graphic designer Jen Taylor, 29. “These people are the most consistent ones in my life. Outside of co-workers, I see them more than anyone else.”
The price is also right. “The fact that it’s free eliminates the excuse for a lot of people. You shouldn’t have to pay for a gym membership — we can just use the city,” says Martin, an avid exerciser who joined the group in 2013 to meet people. “You don’t have to sign up; just show up.”
Regular participants: around 40 in winter and close to 100 during warmer months
Age range: teenagers through retirees
Groups around the world: 33
High-fives shared: Infinite