A seven-day, 155-mile race through China’s Gobi Desert has changed an ultramarathoner from Scotland’s life.
It’s not because he crossed the finish line. It’s what he crossed it with.
A stray dog ran alongside him for much of the way, over streams and mountains and under a punishing sun. Now the runner is raising money to bring the dog back to Scotland.
Dion Leonard has run ultramarathons in some of the most inhospitable places on Earth. When he saw the tiny, sand-colored mutt around camp on the first day, he’d didn’t think much of her. On Day 2, as he lined up at the starting line, the dog was there, looking up at him.
“I thought to myself, this little dog is not going to run, surely,” Leonard said. “I hope she’s quick.”
And she was.
As 100 competitors set off, the dog raced ahead. Leonard said he felt pressure to keep up with her for a while. But the pair ran together that day. Up a mountain pass and down the other side of the Gobi Desert range.
She’d run ahead for a while, then circle back to nip at his heels, Leonard said, “as if to say, ‘Let’s go quicker, let’s go quicker.’”
At night they kept warm in Leonard’s tent. He gave her water and food, and the next day they started out again. On Day 3 their relationship was cemented when Leonard carried the dog across a river that was too deep for her to cross alone. The runner came to the Gobi to compete, yet here he was, sacrificing his time for a little dog.
Leonard said there’s a lot of time and space think in the desert. And the dog became a kind of symbol — proof the world isn’t always such a hostile place, even in the desert.
But on Day 4, the heat really started cranking. Temperatures rose to 125 soul-melting degrees.
“It’s pretty grim,” Leonard said of the heat. “You struggle to eat when it gets warm. It puts a lot of pressure on you.”
The race directors wouldn’t let the dog run in those conditions, so they put her in a car and drove her to the end of the line. Of course, the dog was waiting for Leonard when he got to the finish, and “as soon as she saw me she would jump up and we’d run in together.”
Today, Leonard is back home in Scotland. The dog is in China. Race organizers are keeping her safe. But she’s a free spirit, and who knows if they can keep her contained for long.
Leonard has raised more than $8,000 to adopt her. Getting through quarantine is expensive. Meanwhile, he’s given the little stray beast a name.
It’s Gobi. What else?