For some, fitness and camaraderie come first
It was Christmas morning. A bitter winter wind brought the chill down to near zero degrees. And the sun had not yet risen.
Yet there they were: almost 100 hearty men and women decked in gear that ranged from neon-green jackets to an elf costume to a Santa beard, running up and down the benches and steps of Harvard Stadium in Allston.
There were intermittent joyful hoots, yells of encouragement, a few bars of a Christmas song, and the thwack of palms meeting in high-fives.
But the constant sound that carried across the U-shaped arena was sneakers scraping their way up the shin-high concrete benches, padding down the closer-together steps, then working up to the top again in the next section.
The fitness enthusiasts, driven by camaraderie and a desire for a cardiovascular kick to start the holiday, roused themselves out of bed and into a grueling workout while most Bay Staters were either snoozing or watching children rip open gifts.
They are part of a grass-roots fitness-group-turned-movement called the November Project.
Its Boston-area members, who embrace hugs over handshakes as standard greeting, head to Harvard Stadium for a workout every Wednesday, rain or shine, winter or summer, holiday or workday.
Brogan Graham, the 31-year-old cofounder of the group, merrily encouraged his fellow stadium runners upward.
"All the way! All the way!" yelled Graham, leader of Wednesday morning's routine and an embodiment of holiday cheer.
One woman making her way through the workout was Brookline resident Kaitlin Pace, 29.
"What better way to start off the holiday, burn some extra calories early on, just spend the morning with some really positive, awesome people," she said with a laugh. "Earn my Christmas."
Drew Messinger, 28 and from Newton, said part of the draw Wednesday morning was wanting to stay in shape, but much of the impetus was the desire to "make my Christmas memorable," he said, chuckling. He said he hoped the rest of his morning would involve opening presents.
Cambridge resident Ari Ofsevit, a 29-year-old who works in transportation and planning, has been coming to November Project workouts since June 2012.
What brought him there on Christmas Day?
"The hugs, the stairs, the fact that I can do this with other people who also want to do it," he said. "It's hard to run stairs on your own, it's not gratifying. When you do it with a bunch of other people, it gets a lot more fun."
The November Project started as pact between Graham and Bojan Mandaric, friends and former Northeastern University rowing teammates, to train together before work.
"It just started as a couple dudes trying to stay in motion," Graham explained, walking out of the stadium.
Begun on Nov. 1, 2011, their routine slowly grew to include a few others. Then they started a blog and social media accounts, and it become a full-blown fitness trend.
Now there are 6:30 a.m. November Project workouts in the Boston area every Monday (pushups, situps at different locations), Wednesday (Harvard Stadium), and Friday (hills in Brookline). Each often draws hundreds of people. Others have joined the movement from San Francisco to Washington, D.C.
"It's not a running club and it's not a boot camp," Graham explained.
It's "a free fitness movement. It used to just be a bunch of dudes, but now it's on in seven cities in North America."
At 7:10 a.m., the workout was over and everyone jogged their way back to the section of stadium closest to the entrance.
As is tradition, the group gathered for a photo. At Graham's instruction, they linked arms, put on serious faces, and looked off into the distance.
A few clicks of the shutter, a friendly yell of "Get out of here!" then cheers as people went on their way, by car, by bike, and on foot.
A few minutes later, the stadium was empty and silent.
It was 7:30 a.m. on Christmas.