Workout of the Week: The Sisyphus Session


I first wrote about this hill workout several years ago for Competitor (now Outside Run) and you can dig into its background and some of its variations here. Inspired by Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, this is one of my favorite sessions. I use some version of its short-medium-long format with all of my athletes, manipulating the specifics for 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.

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.

Warmup/Cooldown: Warm up before the workout with 15-30 minutes of easy running followed by a set of drills and 4-6 x 20-second strides (i.e., accelerate for 5 seconds, spend the next 10 seconds at near-top speed, and then gradually decelerate to a jog over the final 5 seconds. Catch your breath for 40-60 seconds and then repeat 3-5 more times). Cool down after the workout with 5-15 minutes of easy running.

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

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