Nathan Sports ultrarunning athlete Brian Tinder makes his first European podium and shares his story below:
As I got off the plane in Geneva, Switzerland I quickly realized this was not going to be the same experience I had three weeks prior in France. I quickly recognized my host and gave him a kiss on each cheek, as I was accustomed to in France. ... Apparently Switzerland doesn't really have the same greeting even though we were technically only a few hours from Chamonix, France. Still, my host was gracious and went along with it. Gil Caillet-Bois was not only my host for the next week but also the race director of the Dents Du Midi, the race I was to run in a few days.
Earlier this year Gil had emailed me an invitation to come run Dents Du Midi (DDM). I'd never heard of the race and so was curious what Gil's invitation really entailed. After working out details and taking a quick recovery from the CCC 100K (a race in Chamonix, France, that accompanies the famous UTMB three weeks prior), I was put up in an 18-bedroom boutique hotel called Beau Sejour in a small mountain village called Champery. A wonderful family owns the hotel, and they fed me and the other racing guests a lovely breakfast and dinner daily.
Fellow Nathan Sports teammate Connie Gardner and I explored the area for the week. Gil took us to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn. I was asked if I had met Manu yet? I soon learned Manu is not only a local legend but also the two-year reigning champ of the race. He also once held the Vertical K (kilometer) world record.
I learned that the DDM is the oldest trail race in Europe. I saw the rich history all week as we helped mark the trails and get to know some of the "old guys". I learned Gil's father ran the race an incredible 40 times! I truly felt in the company of history.
The DDM is a 57-kilometer race with 4200 meters of vertical gain (that's almost 14,000 feet). The night before the start I introduced myself to Manu and planned to just keep him in sight. The race starts and runs through Champery. (Judging from the course-lining spectators, it seems the town population doubled for the event.)
Feeling great, I quickly climbed toward the Dents du Midi "teeth of the mountain." I was in awe of how fast Manu could climb. I moved my attention to the awe-inspiring vistas. On the steepest sections, he would crawl on all fours and and move up the slope like an animal; It was something I had never seen before. Amazing!
I bombed down the smooth singletrack to the lake. Third place was right on my heels and so I did my best to create a gap.
The last climb of the day started with a trail that seemed to disappear into the cliffs. All I could see was a huge cliff ahead and a saddle between two majestic peaks above. I stopped to look where my trail would take me up. I could not see any trail or switchback going up. All I could see were tiny bodies scaling this "cliff" ahead of me. I quickly realized what was really ahead: A chained path with ropes bolted to the rocks. Whoa. I laughed out loud thinking about the pure awesomeness of this.
"I am in Switzerland running a race that is steeper than anything I have ever run!"¬ù I said to myself.
By the time I topped out at the saddle, I was spent. The race crew said something to me in French then in German, I still shook my head. I asked, "English?"¬ù They then said that Manu was 7 minutes ahead. I had about 6 to 7 miles to go on a gnarly downhill. I continued down letting my legs recover a bit from the climb.
I didn't get far, though, before the trail turned into a cliff that mirrored the technical ascent. There were "rangers" stationed on the cliff to aid people down. Ropes guarded against falls on the edge. And through it all, I could only think of catching Manu. I grabbed the rope facing forward and took leaps as though I was rappelling "Australian style."¬ù ... I gave myself good rope burns. The "rangers" yelled at me in French. I thought they were cheering me on as I bound down the cliff; I later learned they were there to make sure people didn't run down as reckless as I had. I don't speak French so all was forgiven. ...
With less than a mile to go, I stepped on the gas as I pounded down the wooded switchbacks toward the finish in Champery. I never saw Manu until after I crossed the finish line. I finished second in a time of 6 hours 44 minutes, only 3.5 minutes behind Manu.
I made my first European podium-one steeped in rich mountain-running history none the less-and had one of the most amazing racing experiences of my entire life.