SAINTEXPRESS, TRAIL RUNNING/ROAD RACE, 46km, 1,000m ascent, 1,500m descent
27th of November 2021, 11PM

End of November I ran the Saintexpress, little sister of the classic Saintélyon. 46 kilometres and 1.000m ascent in the Monts du Lyonnais, by night.

Map Saintexpress JLC

11PM. I’m in the middle of a flood of people. We are all itching to pass under the starting arch and to finally run. Long minutes waiting for the shuttles in the cold, months of training: physically, psychologically. The last seconds are electric. Jokes are whizzing by all around me. A way to release tension. I smile under my mask.

Here, on the starting line, doubt starts to creep in. Am I really ready? I have definitely increased the mileage and the elevation gain during my training, favoring low intensity to give my body time to absorb and not get injured. I could also have done more. My big question mark lies after the 30th kilometer. Is my body going to be able to keep carrying me the same way? I pull myself together. What’s done is done, now you’re here. I lift my head. A sea of stars is revealed by parting clouds. I mentally thank the skies, because they are not emptying on us. Yet.

Equipment Saintexpress

11.20PM. At last, the crowd is setting off. Slowly at first, walking. I’m finally crossing the starting arch, I set off my watch and my legs. My heart beats fast in the snowy streets of Sainte Catherine. I try to concentrate. Breathe. Quickly we are walking again, the road thinning into a trail that needs to funnel 2.500 runners.

At the start of the Saintexpress, all smiles

It starts snowing and I’m in awe. I’m grateful that it is snow and not rain. My awe is short lived when I hear people in front of me shout warnings: the next section of road is icy. I go on the side on the side of the road, on the uneven farm fields. Progression is slow but at least I don’t feel like I’m on an ice rink. I’ll see at least two people on the ground and several ambulances. I’m reminding myself my goal for this race: arrive at the end of these 46km, 1,000m of ascent and 1,500m of descent, in one piece and in good condition. Slowly but surely.

I’m starting to feel a small discomfort in my hip when descending. My anxious side starts to imagine catastrophic scenarios. I check my watch. Only 20 kilometers… I lift my head up and I see the moon appearing behind the clouds. This vision instantly lifts my spirit up, I relax and breathe a bit more lightly. I gaze in the distance, the snow and the moonlight allow me to see the distant lights of cities and villages lower down in the valley. There is no other place I’d rather be right now. I spent the last 3 months preparing for this precise moment. I decide to just enjoy as much as I can. Finally, I pass the sign for Soucieu-en-Jarrest, already sporting its Christmas lights. I see the first aid station, exactly in the middle of the race.

My neck is tired of looking down to illuminate the single tracks with my headlamp and check where I’m stepping. It also takes some mental gymnastics, constantly taking note of the obstacles while running. At a time where I’m usually sleeping soundly. At the second aid station I treat myself to a fresh pair of socks (that I’ve been carrying for the first 32 kilometers…). I look at my feet, which are a bit sensitive at the front after all the descending but overall quite good. Only 14 kilometers left, boys. We are going to make it. A little bit of warm sweet tea and let’s go.

I’m impressed by the organization, and especially by all the volunteers at the aid stations, along the itinerary, at every bend and street corner. Their cheering is heartwarming. After the second aid station, the last kilometers seem to stretch. I’m checking my watch more often than necessary. We are running in a maze of streets. Left, right, little alleyways, going down – my knees are not happy – then back up. Finally, rounding a street corner above Lyon, I catch sight of the landmark Musée des Confluences in the distance. I’m suddenly overwhelmed with emotions and my eyes fill with tears. What a treat to finish in this city that was the backdrop of my university years.

Soucieu en Jarrest, middle of the Saintexpress
Finish line of the Saintexpress
Happy and tired at the end of the Saintexpress

Stairs bring me down to the Saône quays, that we follow for a few hundred meters, before going back up to cross the river. I’m checking my watch, it’s almost 6 in the morning. I quicken my pace, here is my last challenge: make it to the finish line before 6 AM. At the end, my last kilometer will be the fastest. It’s unbelievable what the body can still give after a sleepless night and more than 6 hours of moving time. I’m now crossing the Rhône, my heart is beating so fast, both because I’m going faster than I have been in the last 45 kilometers, but also because I know I’m going to finish this. I see the Halle Tony Garnier that holds the finish line.

6 AM. In a heartbeat I see myself entering the building and pass under the mythical Saintélyon arch. 6 hours, 38 minutes since the start. I’m feeling super emotional. I see Nevin looking for me on the other side of the barriers. My eyes fill with tears and I can see he is also very moved. With a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, I grab a coke at the arrival supplies and my finisher T-shirt. I hurry to join my love who has been there at the departure shuttle in the night and is here in the early morning, making sure I have a change of dry clothes and a fresh croissant. Time to celebrate the fact I’m a finisher of the Saintexpress.

Finish line of the Saintexpress
Finish line of the Saintexpress