Workout of the Week: The Sisyphus Session

By Mario Fraioli |

I first wrote about this hill workout several years ago for Competitor (now PodiumRunner) and you can dig into its background and some of its variations here. I use some version of this short-medium-long format for all of my athletes depending on who they are, what they’re training for, and where they are in a training block. This session is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one and there’s probably a place for it in your program. Here are the key details:

What: 1-3 sets of hill repeats on a challenging but runnable grade (~4-6%) ranging from 30 seconds to 2 minutes in duration. One set of repeats looks like this: Run hard (3K-5K effort or 8-9/10 perceived effort) uphill for 30 seconds, jog back down to the bottom. Run hard uphill for 60 seconds, jog back down to the bottom. Run hard uphill for 90 seconds, jog back down to the bottom. Run hard uphill for 2 minutes, jog back down to the bottom. Use the same hill for the entire workout so you can set benchmarks on the first set and aim to match or better them on sets 2 and 3.

Why: To build early-season strength before transitioning to flatter, faster speed work, or as a challenging mid-season workout for cross-country or shorter, hillier road races. Hill repeats are generally a “safer” form of speed work because the hill slows you down a bit and the overall impact on the body is far less than when running flat and fast.

Where: Any hill will do! Ideally one that has an incline between 4-6% and takes you 2 minutes to run up at a hard effort. If you don’t have a hill that long, you can shorten the duration of the reps and keep the spirit of the session the same. (On the flipside, if you’re training for long, hilly races and have access to lengthy roads or trails, you can stretch out the duration of the repeats [and adjust the effort accordingly] too.)

When: Early in a training block when you’re still building strength or mid-season as a replacement for a flatter, faster interval session.

A version of this workout first appeared on PodiumRunner.com.

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