Our American friend, a new lover of the region
“I made my first European podium – more impressed with mountain history – and I had one of the most extraordinary racing experiences of my life.”
Brian Tinder arrived a little by chance in Champéry, invited to discover the Valley of Illiez and its beautiful and majestic Dents-du-Midi by Doug Mayer, a friend who offered to discover his adventure during the first runthealps.com activity. Brian is an incredibly kind man, always in a good mood and willing. He has given us the enthusiastic honor of accepting to be our ambassador and above all to link all possible contacts between the United States and our committee.
As soon as he arrived, Brian shone on the Podium! This athlete from Nathan Sports Ultra Running, makes his first European podium and shares his story below:
When I got off the plane in Geneva, Switzerland, I quickly realized that it would not be the same experience I had had three weeks before in France. I quickly recognized my host and gave him a kiss on each cheek, as I was used to in France. … Apparently, Switzerland does not really have the same salvation even if we were technically only a few hours from Chamonix, France. Gil Caillet-Bois was not only my host for next week but also the race director of the Trail des Dents Du Midi, the race I had to run in a few days.
Earlier this year, Gil had sent me an invitation to come and run the Trail des Dents Du Midi (DDM). I had never heard of the race and I was curious about what Gil’s invitation really involved. After working on the details and recovering quickly from the CCC 100K (a race in Chamonix, France, which accompanies the famous UTMB three weeks before), I was installed in a charming hotel of 18 rooms called Art.Boutique.Hotel Beau Sejour In a small mountain village called Champéry. A wonderful family owns the hotel, and they fed me along with the other racing guests, with a lovely breakfast and dinner every day.
My teammate from Nathan Sports 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 ever met Manu? I quickly learned that Manu is not only a local legend, but also the reigning champion of two years of the race. He also held the world record vertical K (kilometer).
I learned that the DDM is the oldest Trail race in Europe. I saw the rich history all week because we helped to mark the trails and to get to know some of the “old guys”. I learned that Gil’s father ran the race an incredible 40 times! I really felt in the company of history.
The DDM is a 57-kilometer race with 4200 meters of vertical gain (nearly 14,000 feet). The day before I left, I went to Manu and planned to keep him in sight. The race begins with Champéry. (Judging by the spectators, it seems that the population of the city doubled for the event.) Feeling tall, I quickly climbed the paths to the Dents du Midi. I was in awe of the speed at which Manu could climb. I shifted my attention to the impressive views. On the steepest sections, he dragged himself on all fours and climbed up the slope like an animal; It was something I had never seen before. Unbelievable!
I traced on these smooth trails to the lake. The third place was right on my heels and so I did my best to create a gap. The last climb of the day began with a path that seemed to disappear into the cliffs. All I could see was a huge front cliff and a threshold between two majestic peaks above. I stopped to look where my track would take me. I could not see any trail or back on the rise. All I could see were tiny bodies climbing this “cliff” in front of me. I quickly realized what was really to come: A path chained with ropes bolted to the rocks. Whoa. I laughed aloud thinking of the pure wonder of it. I said to myself: “I am in Switzerland to run a race that is stiffer than anything I ever performed!”??
When I overcame what is known as the “No Encel”, the race team told me something in French and then in German, I always shook my head. I asked, “English?” ?? They then said that Manu was 7 minutes ahead of time. I had about 6 to 7 miles to continue on a winding descent. I continued to let my legs recover a bit of the climb. I could not get far, however, before the path became a cliff that reflected the technical ascent. There were “rangers” stationed on the cliff to help people down. Ropes protected against falling on the edge. And through all this, I could not think of catching up with Manu. I grabbed the rope forward and made jumps as if I was in an “Australian style.” I gave myself good rope burns. The rangers shouted at me in French. I thought they accompanied me by clinging to the cliff; I learned later that they were there to make sure people did not run as rash as me. I do not speak French so everything has been forgiven…
With less than a mile to go, I walked on the gas while I descended on wooded forest roads towards the finish in Champéry. I never saw Manu before I crossed the finish line. I finished second in a time of 6 hours 44 minutes, just 3.5 minutes from Manu.
I made my first European podium – more impressed with mountain history – and thus had one of the most extraordinary racing experiences of my life.