I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to try this free workout -- and I can't wait to go back

On Wednesday morning, I ran 3.6 miles along the East River in Manhattan. I did squats while holding hands with complete strangers. Then I shouted my name as loud as my lungs would allow and hugged dozens of sweaty people I had never met before.

I did it all before the sun came up … and I cannot wait to do it again.

Welcome to the November Project, an outdoor workout that combines cardio and cross-training for a twice-weekly program and costs absolutely nothing to attend.

Just show up

The November Project started in Boston nearly four years ago as as month-long challenge between former college athletes Bojan Mandaric and Brogan Graham. Slowly, more people started showing up to their workouts and the project expanded to cities outside of Boston.

Today, there are NP groups, or “tribes” as they prefer to be called, in over 25 cities in the United States and Canada. I caught up with the New York City tribe, which has a core group of about 75 members ranging from 20 to 40-years-old. The tribe is full of Olympians, triathletes, and marathoners, so it’s safe to say I was nervous about keeping up.

Checking out their website and Facebook page, I started to get a better sense of what NP is all about: accountability. Tribe members are invited to “drop a verbal,” pledging to show up to a particular workout. If you don’t show, be prepared to be humorously shamed on the “we missed you” section of the website.

But the best info I found online was the NP motto: “Just show up.”

So, with camera in hand and hot pink Asics on my feet, that’s what I did.

Here’s what it was like.

It was totally dark outside when my alarm went off early Wednesday morning. Getting out of bed was a struggle.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Read more about my wake-up light alarm clock here.

As I made my way to the Carl Shurz Park on the UES of Manhattan, it felt like I was out in the middle of the night.

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The November Project meet-up spot overlooks the East River -- a great place to watch the sunrise.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

There were two NP sessions on Wednesday: 5:28 a.m. and 6:28 a.m. By the time the 6:28 a.m. tribe rolled up to workout, it was a perfect fall morning. (I worked out in the 5:28 a.m. session, but stuck around to take photos of the 6:28 a.m.)

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For more information about when and where the November Project meets in your city, check out their website.

I was surprised to see how many people showed. There were about 50 folks at the earlier session and at least 65 at the later one.

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One of the first things I noticed were the colourful, spray-painted shirts that many participants wear.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

The other thing I noticed, or rather experienced, was hugging.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

I quickly discovered that at the November Project, a hug is the only way to greet somebody -- even if they're a complete stranger.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

As a warm-up, one of the New York tribe leaders, Paul Leak, even instructed us to find several different people and hug them for no-less-than four seconds while thanking them for coming.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

There was also an activity that involved greeting by touching one of your fingers to someone's nose.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

We must have looked a little silly to anybody passing by in the park, but everyone was pretty into it!

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

The first Wednesday of the month is known as 'PR Day,' and consists of a timed 3.6 mile run. Before kicking off, we huddled as the leaders got everyone pumped.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

There was jumping, chanting, and no shortage of f-bombs being thrown around.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

New members, like me, were asked to come to the middle of the circle. There we joined hands and did squats while shouting our names. It felt silly at first, but I was surprised how quickly it broke the ice.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

After warming up, everybody lined up to start the run.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

The November Project holds workouts all over the city, but they don't always clear it with security teams beforehand. A workout at Rockefeller Center once got the tribe kicked out by security in under 30 seconds, an NP regular explained.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Wednesday's 3.6 mile run consisted of running 8 loops around Gracie Mansion. After each loop, tribe leaders high-fived runners to keep the energy high.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Someone brought a set of wireless speakers to blast some tunes.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

While I was running, every person I passed (or rather, every person who whizzed past me) shouted words of encouragement.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

I also enjoyed how everybody seemed to know everyone's name. Hearing my own name as I completed each lap definitely helped motivate me.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Some people also did strength exercises, like these women doing burpees.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

And these guys doing ... actually, I'm not sure what they were doing, but it looked like they were having a good time.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Several people were sporting medals from the New York City Marathon, which was held over the weekend.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

There was even some celebratory champagne being poured, despite the early hour.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

After everyone finished the run, there was, you guessed it, more hugging.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

And some selfies.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

As I was leaving, one of the November Project founders, Brogan Graham, stopped me and gave me some advice for the rest of my day.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

'Drink a ton of water, give lots of hugs, and make sure you talk to some strangers,' Graham said, while, you guessed it, giving me a hug.

Madison Malone Kircher/Tech Insider

Sounds like some solid advice. I'll definitely keep it in mind until next week, when you'll find me back at it bright and early with the November Project. Now to recruit some more friends to join.

Photo Courtesy of the November Project

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