Week 33: Project Awesome

After nearly a month away, I am back home in London and excited to continue my quest to try a new fitness class, craze or fad every week. This week was a super one!

I think it was my mum who first mentioned Project Awesome to me… she’d read about it as one of London’s newest fitness movements and thought it sounded up my street.

Project Awesome was set up in 2014 by a few friends who wanted to bring a little ray of sunshine into Londoners’ lives; having fun, getting fit and making a playground of the city. Three years on, they have a following of hundreds who meet early in the morning in London, Edinburgh and Bristol to get sweaty, get happy and pass on a little joy.

This week marks their three year anniversary (or Project Awesomeversary) and they’d planned some extra celebratory touches for this week’s sessions… what better time to try it?! Initially I’d planned to go the Monday morning meet in Brixton (there were water slides!) but the weather forecast got the better of me and I opted for Wednesday’s workout outside City Hall instead.

Alarm set for silly o-clock, I brewed a coffee, put on my brightest active-wear, and hopped on a train to town while the world was still sleeping.

What They Say:
We are the rainbow chinks in a city of grey

We hug. We high five. We behave like little children and get ‘accidentally’ badass fit in the process.

For a little more (in rap form) check out this video

My Experience:
It happened by chance that my return to fitness finds coincided with the 3 year Project “Awesomeversary”. I’d been meaning to go for ages and saw on their FaceBook page that they were planning celebrations for their birthday week so it seemed the perfect time to go along for the first time.

Getting up super early never seems like much fun for the first 5 minutes, but as soon as I stepped out of the front door I was pleased to be awake and outside. It was one of those mornings where little puffy clouds dotted the slowly-brightening sky and everything was still and quiet. I hopped on my bike and was on the early train to town before I knew it.

Pulling into Waterloo, I decided a quick 2-mile stroll would be much nicer than a 3 minute tube journey, so set off towards City Hall with a skip in my stride. I love the city at this time of day… it feels like you have the whole place to yourself. The rising sun glinted off the Shard and there was no-one around as I wandered down side streets and through an eerily quiet Borough Market. As I approached the scoop I saw a hoard of a hundred or so brightly-dressed girls and guys assembling on the steps next to a stage set of Ancient Greece. It turns out the set is there for an free outdoor rendition of the Odyssey which is running through August. I might just get myself along to watch; I’m currently listening to a lecture series on Greek Mythology and I’m obsessed… Ancient Greece is like Game of Thrones on steroids! I digress… atop Mount Olympus sat a band of bearded folk with instruments (aka The Turbans), ready to entertain with birthday beats as we worked out.

As I joined the throng, someone handed me a helium balloon, which I promptly tied to my wrist, and then we huddled together and started jumping on the spot as our leaders began a chant of:
“when I say “pixie” you say “dust” “Pixie-DUST! Pixie-DUST!””, and
“when I say “uni-” you say “corn” “Uni-CORN! Uni-CORN!””

Next up, the newbies were taken to one side and inducted with a haka-take on burpees. Two minutes in and I already felt part of the gang.

The workout began with a jog over to the other side of Tower Bridge and back. As we crossed the bridge – all bright colours, balloons and smiles – people sitting in traffic smiled and waved and a huge cheer went up as we passed a bride and groom having a photo shoot in the early morning light.

The combination of exercise and positive vibes is like an endorphin explosion; we’d barely begun the warm up and I already felt utterly elated. Anyone who’s run the London Marathon will probably agree that it’s impossible to cross Tower Bridge without getting goosebumps on recalling that wonderful feeling of hitting halfway, but this reminded me of the marathon in another way too: I’ll never forget turning out of Greenwich Park in my first ever marathon and nearly bursting into tears when I witnessed the sheer volume of spectators cheering us on. Running with this band of positive peeps felt kinda like that.

When we got back to City Hall we started the workout. It began with a “scoop” which involves running up and down the steps outside City Hall… there are two things to note about these steps: they are ginormously steep and they increase in volume as you go around! Each time we finished a lap we’d grab a partner and hit some synchro sit-ups, wheelbarrow walks and squat jumps. It was seriously sweaty and I got a great quad burn, but it felt more like haring around the park as a kid than exercise. It was utterly inclusive – some people were sprinting the steps, some were walking, some took breaks and some were piggy backing instead of wheelbarrow walking (if you haven’t tried wheelbarrows since you were a kid, just grab a buddy and give it a go… aberooni!).

All the while, the dudes on Mount Olympus were banging out beats on their smorgasbord of pipes, strings and drums and it felt like a carnival. An hour later, as we neared the end of the session, everyone linked sweaty arms, cheered and did a little Greek dancing… it was like a big bubble of joy which was infecting everyone who passed by. I’d had my balloon tied to my wrist for the duration (regularly bonking both me and others on the head) and as I let it go at the end I watched it drift up, up and away and wondered how many people would see it and smile. Gotta love a free floating balloon in the sky!

Project Awesome is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping to discover when I started my challenge to try a new fitness find every week for a year. Without a reason to do so, getting out of bed at 5am to go and workout with strangers simply wouldn’t have happened – but boy am I happy I did.

As I crossed London Bridge on my way home, sweaty, smiling and dressed in fluro, I felt so lucky not to be part of the grey suit-clad throng passing in the other direction. I wanted to stop them and shout “GO TO PROJECT AWESOME BEFORE YOU GO TO WORK!” Seriously, if you’re having a bit of a crap week or work is stressing you out, just get down there; I don’t believe anyone could go to this and leave without a smile on their face.

I took the long route back to the station, strolling along the river and contemplating whether there’s any better combination than sweat and positive vibes. I don’t think so.

In Summary:
If you work in London, Bristol or Edinburgh and could reasonably get here before heading to the office, I strongly urge you to go along. Project Awesome does exactly what it says on the tin. Spread a little happiness, make new friends, hug a stranger and get a little fitter in the process. Blimmin’ marvellous.

The workout itself was both challenging and inclusive. If you’re fit already, you can most definitely work hard. If you can barely run for the bus or are terrified of stepping foot in a gym, you can totally choose your own pace and won’t feel pressured or out of place. No-one cares what anyone else is doing; everyone is just enjoying it, getting sweaty and encouraging each other.

Where: every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at 6.30am (Monday location varies, Wednesday at the scoop, Friday at Primrose Hill)

Cost: free!

How to book: no need to book, just turn up at 6:25am. If you want to check out their website it is here: http://www.projectawesomehq.com

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