In The Name Of Gathering, 2021 Summit & M.O.M. Recap

This is the full recap of the week of events that combined November Project Co-leader gathering, the Meeting Of the Minds, or “M.O.M.,” that flowed right into the November Project Summit or #NPSUMMIT. Both of these in-person gatherings took place in San Diego, California from November 10-14 and were fueled by our sponsors from Brooks Running. Since 2019, Brooks has been supporting NP’s mission, providing resources for our operations and seeding gear at many of our events and activations. Brooks folks come to our workouts, they sweat with our members, and take part in the activities we put together. Just like in our week-to-week, Brooks has been an integral part of M.O.M and #NPSUMMIT and we are incredibly grateful for their continued support. 

Below is the play-by-play of how the weekend unrolled so you get a sense of what our frist large gathering in two plus years looked like. Enjoy.

  1. Wednesday Arrival of all Co-Leaders

Meeting Of the Minds is the Co-Leader only event that gives space for active leaders to train, connect, and learn from NPHQ directly and by way of the many speakers and presenters that are elevated during their one full day together (Thursday). The inbound travel day for all Co-Leaders who are attending the M.O.M. was on Wednesday, with the “circle up” and introductions happening at the very end of the day. This, for many of us, is the most exciting part of the week as it acts as the welcoming moment, ceremonially bringing the majority of new faces into the fold. We chose a small parking lot right on Mission Bay next to our hotel and went around the group clockwise giving “name & city” for each and every single one of us in the current ring of leadership. It should be said that a few dozen Co-Leaders were not able to attend for various reasons, but the turnout for those who did travel to SD was incredible. Co-Founders Bojan and BG laid out the plans for the next day and gave a little historic context of both the November Project Summit and M.O.M. The fact is, 2020’s events were forced to be virtual, leaving these energetic local Co-Leaders with more screen time as the main way to connect. That first night in the parking lot, looking around as the faces gained new connections and names were being practiced in live time… it was the rush of energy and community that has been missing. This moment kicked off what was going to be an amazing few days in sunny California.  

Co-Leaders Introduction, Wednesday 8PM – Photo by B.G. of November Project
  1. Thursday Morning Boardwalk Run With Des Linden

2-time Olympian, 50K World Record Holder, and 2018 Boston Marathon Champ, and Brooks Elite professional runner Des Linden returns to the M.O.M. to lead an exclusive surprise run for the Co-Leaders of November Project to start the day on Thursday. With options for walkers, joggers, and runners, all groups converged at the base of the Belmont Park Roller Coaster on the Mission Beach Boardwalk right at sunrise for a get-to-know-you Q&A hosted by November Project’s Bojan Mandaric. During this unique huddle, with the warm sun coming up in the East over the mountains, against the audible sound of waves crashing a few hundred feet to the West, this postcard moment was one for the ages. Des spoke on her 2020, her life this year, and what is next. Des, for those of you who out there who have never heard her speak, has a way of owning the simplicity of the sport of running. She speaks on the connection between motivation and how we all have some of the same struggles with running, from the newbie to the Olympian. Des, as always, was a bright light, one that kicked off a full day of Co-Leader training and workshops. 

Des Linden & Bojan Mandaric Q&A post run, Thursday 6AM – Photo by John William Photography
  1. M.O.M. Leadership Sessions 

Because we only have one day, ONE SINGLE DAY, with the full group of Co-Leaders to connect, learn, and share ideas, the conversations heading into the event are always about weighing and prioritizing which topics to focus on and why. Some could say that upping the training on inclusivity, understanding identity/intersectionality, and learning exactly what makes a great workout flow are some of the most important pieces. Others may argue that after last year, this group of creative extroverts simply needs time to connect with each other, with added fun, and time outside. As NPHQ tends to do, we went for all of the above. Below are the sessions that all Co-Leaders were guided through at the airy indoor/outdoor boathouse space at Pepper Park in National City. 

  • “Thoughtful Workout Design” was our first session of the day, with Emily Saul (Co-Leader of NP Boston) and Vinny Carano (Co-Leader of NP Philly) leading the way. The main purpose of this 90 minute workshop was to clarify and solidify the understanding that November Project is a workout group and creating inclusive, fun, interactive, and safe (enough) workouts in all cities is at the center of our mission. Also, we aim to strengthen co-leaders’ knowledge and skills for designing quality workouts and the roles that they play in hosting those workouts. As the room was filled with a wide range of experience, this session was one where identifying terms and working in small groups brought an overall sense of understanding.
Emily & Vinny leading the charge

  • Moving Conversations “Moving Conversations” by Jose Gonzalez. This session consisted of experiential activities and group discussions, providing foundational and thematic framing around Justice, Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity in relation to running. Participants left with guiding questions for the purposes of orienting and connecting the value and purpose of this work as an integrated factor in their own individual and organizational practices. The movements and exchanges ranged from pairs moving through space and selected topics to bigger group presentations in small/medium groups.
  • “Talking Accessibility” with Jim Pathman of Team Hoyt SD/NPSD and Gail Betz Co-Leader of NP Baltimore. What does accessibility mean when it comes to workouts? Running races? How can Co-Leaders have options, conversations, and guide their community when needs of accessibility can have such a range. This duo was able to share their experiences and give their personal opinions on the situations and questions that Co-Leaders brought to their attention. This was a conversation with Q&A that opened up important recognition of ablism and more.
  • “Identity & Intersectionality” by Claudia Thompson, President of The NP Board of Directors. Being left out and othered isn’t new to Claudia, a Black woman who navigates Boston and the many white spaces she works and socializes in. She’s felt this at November Project, in running, and more. What she brought to the room for M.O.M. was an understanding of how we can all look at privileges and see where overlapping beneficial privileges can give even more advantages while the intersectionality of multiplied negative identities can extend the gaps of equality and safety. Claudia sent groups of four into discussion and workshop activities that acknowledge and took ownership of certain identities from a giant list on the main front board.
  • “Keep Recruiting” by BG and Bojan

This session was our last of the day, which means we were ready move. We centered the conversations and the drills we did in small groups and pairs around why recruiting new members matters and how to speak on NP to those who don’t have any context or past experience with fitness. Sometimes the elevator pitch can only be a floor or two up, giving you 30 seconds to express yourself, other times you have a few minutes, sometimes only a sentence or two. We took turns looking at which words we were using and which ones we hadn’t brought up and why. Recruiting by word of mouth remains a strong part of NP, so figuring out how to speak on NP in the best possible way, how often to be out in the community recruiting (never enough), and the practice of failing being all a part of how we get good at this craft, were a few important pillars of this session. 

Bojan & BG, Photo by John Williams

During lunch, local fitness photographer Nick Isabella, took a headshot for each of the Co-Leaders in attendance.  We were very lucky to have him.

  1. Friday 6:29AM NP San Diego – Both Co-Leaders, a long list of volunteers, the race directors of San Deigo Run Company and many many more all arrived to Mission Beach on Friday morning to experience the November Project at its purest form. This is a workout. This is a sunrise boost of fun and fitness, delivered by the wacky/smart Co-Leaders Anna and Eugene. What made this morning different is that the members who arrived to join this community were from all over the world. Completely masked up and spaced out for Covid social distancing, the workout really did act as the opening ceremonies for the NP Summit Weekend. Nearly 100 Co-Leaders mixed into the group of hundreds more members. There was a strong sense of community through play and movement. This long overdue recess break is one that we all needed. With some of the workout on and around the grassy space near the boardwalk, the workout came to a close with our feet in the sand, right on the Pacific Ocean. We felt like we’d come home to November Project, a gathering of people who’d been separated from one another for over two years. The weekend was officially off and running. 
NP San Diego, Post Workout Group Photo by Bojan Mandaric
  1. Friday Mid-Morning Sandcastles – 10 Teams, lined up and picked at random, had 60 minutes to build whatever they’d like. The only tools? 10 Brooks Running water bottles each. Teams had to get creative in what they were building, how they used the bottles, and were all aiming at the same goal. The overall champion would win a prize that couldn’t be bought anywhere in the world or online; Street Cred. As you can see here, the votes came in from the panel of illustrious judges and two teams had to go directly to a tie breaker of, you guessed it, Rock, Paper, Scissors! Street Cred awarded to Team #1 (fitting) along with an upcoming Instagram post to our main NP account. Congratulations to all teams for getting dirty, having fun, and meeting new NP’ers from far off places. 
  1. Friday Afternoon “Movement to Stillness” 

Active Co-Leaders Tonieh Welland (Milwaukee) and Steve Procknal (Buffalo) stepped up and Co-Lead this 45 minute session at Bonita Cove starting at 1:15PM. The intention was to take some form of yogic movement and pair it with a wound down feeling, with some intention setting and stillness. The many who showed up for these two and for themselves were brought into a very strong moment of gratitude and togetherness. A special thanks to these two for working as a team and crafting an experience that wasn’t a workout or a race, but a piece of mindfulness/movement/breath that we all needed. Yoga jams and stunts broke out on the grass after the session was over. Such an incredible experience in the sunshine. 

  1. Friday Night Co-Leaders Final Dinner w/Brooks

Brooks and NP shared one last meal on Friday night, a gathering that would act as the close of M.O.M. and be the last time of the week that Co-Leaders would all be in the same space (organizationally we like to keep ‘summit an experience for the Co-Leaders to have without any asks or demands on their time). The beer by Original 40 Brewing, grapes by FitVine, and the meal provided by InsideTracker, all held in a meeting room that overlooked the marina at sunset was just the closing vibes we needed. The event planner, Kara Borelli was given a hooting round of “Kara, Kara, Kara!” cheers and hype during the closing ceremony and toasts. Kara works tirelessly to ensure the travel and logistics through the event are on point. The months of work that Kara put into M.O.M./Summit were heavy, making the flow of the week so much lighter. If you are in need of an event planner please reach out to us at NP and we’d love to connect you to them. Kara is on their 5th yr of working with NPHQ.

OK, so closing this final night as a team of leaders, the floor was open to anyone who wanted to make a toast, which you could imagine, was a heavy number of people. We shared some laughs, tears, and kept it moving. For every person who grabbed the mic there was someone, just as confident, who didn’t step up and take the space by choice. For each leader who stepped up even though they might have been nervous, there were many who didn’t step up at all. There is something very interesting about how this all closed the Meeting Of the Minds. Scott of NP Austin took one of the final spots and reminded the group of who isn’t in the room, who doesn’t feel supported, seen, or courageous. We are privileged to have voices like Scott’s to keep a true sense of perspective and view of the world. To all of those who stepped up and the many who left their turn for someone else, thank you.

  1. Saturday Morning, The Relay Challenge

Before we get into this race, this event, this groundbreaking first official race that November Project has ever put on, we must give a massive shoutout to the team at San Diego Run Company. This lean team puts on running events in and around San Diego and like most businesses that bring people together, 2020 nearly ended them. But they clung on, trimming out the staff, taking on only the main events that would get them through, and hoped for the best. Now, here in 2021, events are somewhat back and this company is most likely in the clear as they continue to return to “normal” life. To the Co-Founders of SDRC, who are also longtime members of NP San Diego, Thank You.

The Relay Challenge was teams of up to 4 people doing four 4 mile loops of the boardwalk at Mission Beach. The giant green space that was fenced off and only accessible to those who were showing proof of vaccination and/or negative covid tests, were in masks, and were practicing social distancing, was the place to be. The Kids race, the beer garden, race registration, bib pickup, bathrooms, security, both the starting and finish line, as well as the transition area were all in this very spaced out officially permitted grounds that we called home for the better part of two days. What didn’t come into focus until the race kicked off, was the cheering and support that came from the many NP members and Co-Leaders who lined the boardwalk on both sides near the transition area. Skip these next few sentences if you don’t care about mapping and directional race stuff like this: You ran off the green space and turned right onto the boardwalk, running North, for roughly a mile. At a cone, you turned around and ran right back down the boardwalk, passing many NP’ers along the way (felt like a workout at many NP locations around the world). Coming back past this transition area, runners were welcomed with booming cheers and even more full blast music. The folks from Brooks had set up the Hyperion Cheer station which was fire. Runners did another mile’ish south before turning around and heading back up to the finish line. It was hot, sunny, fun, funny, and full of good vibes. The beach was a few feet away on one side at all times. What more could you ask for?!?!? The last thing we should draw attention to was that runners who were racing their leg were told that they could remove their masks. This was officially the only time maskless participation was suggested, mostly for reasons of safety as it applies to breathing heavily during a race. 

Masked at the starting line – Photo by John William Photography
  1. Saturday Sunset, The Crate Escape. 

For a more thoughtful connection, we decided to change up the last night of ‘summit this year. With the amount of growth that came throughout the last two years we wanted an experience that was not as predictable as a giant party, infused with drinking and dancing. “The Crate Escape,” an outdoor storytelling slam, brought us a new way of celebrating the weekend and closing in style. 8 NP storytellers took to the stage, literally a single black milk crate, to share their 4-5 minute story, one that had been vetted and practiced for weeks (or at least a few days). The two themes for all of the stories had to fall under “growth” or “this year, last year, & beyond.” Co-Founders Brogan and Bojan MC’d the experience as the sun set in the west over the ocean just a few feet away. A deeper connection and something we could all take back with us were the two goals, both of which were hit. The range of experiences and perspectives was all over the map, but woven together as a way of learning something new from each story told. The night closed with George, current Co-Leader of NP London, who was attending his first M.O.M. and ‘Summit. He spoke of having his first tag last year (the NP London crown), his event tag (the #NPSUMMIT van and NPSD waves fresh 24 hours before the crate) from this year, and where his journey will take him next year. We closed with his optimistic words and sent the entire group over to some preplanned campfires to find smaller groups and open up conversation. The design was such that we made space for everyone share their stories that connect to “growth” and “last year, this year, and beyond” around the fire in a smaller, more comfortable setting. Whether or not you were with us that night at sunset or fireside or didn’t attend at all, please think of your story, think of what you’d say on the crate… perhaps one day around your NP or when you’re out there in the world, you can share your story and keep the crate going. 

NP Austin Co-Leader Maria – Photo by Tony With a Sony
NP Edmonton Co-Leader Lazina – Photo by Tony With a Sony
  1. Beyond. 

Possibly the most important piece of the entire week (M.O.M. and #NPSUMMIT) comes next. California’s gathering is now in the rear view mirror and we move ahead into the winter months with a new sense of NP as a global movement, as a community, and as a machine that still should gather as long as it is done safely. Please take the good vibes from the events and from the new friendships and continue to build your NP. When you travel, try to include a visit to another NP workout. When you see hashtags online, connect with those people. #NPSUMMIT is a good start, but so is #GrassrootsGear, #novemberProject and more. We will change and shift and make our way into a new version of NP in the years to come. Most of who is standing in this space right now will be setting up the next generation of NP’ers who have not yet even joined us. Please speak regularly and recruit new faces to your workouts. Please practice the 6 Community Agreements and reach out to NP with any questions, comments, or concerns you have. Thank you for taking time to read this piece and to share yourself with NP as a whole. 10 years in and we still feel like there is a lot left to do. We are glad you’re here.

  1. Thank You’s: Team Pathman, SD Run Company, Knockaround, FitVine, Inside Tracker, The Original 40 Brewing, Kara Borelli, Eugene & Anna of NPSD, the many volunteers who made the events run smoothly, Claudia Thompson, John William Photography, Tony With a Sony, Nick Isabella Photography, Des Linden, Sheila & DJ Kanoya, the teams of Brooks Running and Bib Rave, Tonieh & Steve, Gail, Vinny, Saul, the entire Board of Directors, the Paint Crew, and everyone who contributed in big and small ways (we love you and we see you).
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