The Myth of Sisyphus and Endurance

I first read The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus in the 1980s as an undergrad student. Upon recently reading it again, it starts: “The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back under its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.”

While this essay is termed a myth, I think of it as a metaphor for life as an endurance athlete. How many athletes have set a goal, obtained it, then watch this improvement and accomplishment roll down the hill back to the starting point, be it through injury or inattention? According to Camus, it’s a recipe for “torture” to hope for the rock to remain at the top of the hill. Instead, a boulder rolling endurance athlete should reflect when moving down the hill. As Camus states, “At each of these moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the layers of god, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than the rock.”

This has a lot to say about endurance and pushing it to the limit. Camus is saying that if we, endurance athletes, approach the event by thinking with the finish line in mind this will be “torture”. Instead, it’s better to endure by collecting ourselves for the inevitable next round of boulder rolling that has no end in sight. Be it doing hill repeats where we push ourselves up a hill and then collect ourselves going down. Or coming into an aid station to collect ourselves on lap two of a five lap ultra marathon.

Camus closes The Myth of Sisyphus with: “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

In the act of enduring, one is happy!
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Experiment of One Coaching covers topics ranging from running, strength training, health & wellness, sports nutrition to travel. I usually post once or twice a month.