AN arid expanse not on many people’s lists of must-see sites unless they’re into primordial fossils and rare bears, the Gobi Desert did, however, qualify as an ideal backdrop for a notoriously grueling ultra-marathon in March 2016.
Traditionally a terrain that is home to snow leopards, Bactrian camels and gerbils, imagine Australian runner Dion Leonard’s surprise when a tiny stray terrier appeared out of nowhere and ran 125km of this challenging race with him.
Thus begins a fascinating fable of courage, commitment and kismet that has captured hearts across the globe.
Running these races by road would send your average athlete into meltdown but in the desert, they can really take a toll, as Leonard told Travel Wire Asia:
“Multi-stage races are traditionally six stages run over seven days totaling 250km. Getting up everyday to run a marathon (one day you actually run two in a row) in extreme heat and conditions, carrying all the food and kit you need to survive the week pushes you to the limit, of course physically, but more mentally as you can come close to breaking point during the race.”
When a pugnacious pup, swiftly named “Gobi”, made herself his running mate by day and fluffy heat pillow by night, Leonard discovered a new way of coping with the rigors of racing in the back of beyond.
“Seeing Gobi skipping along beside me for three of the stages took my mind off the race and I was just so amazed and impressed this little dog could not only run so far and quick but wanted to be with me for the duration of the event,” he said.
Their friendship didn’t fade after the finishing line and Leonard pledged to adopt the savvy stray, promising to give Gobi a new home with him in slightly less sunny Scotland.
With Gobi left in safekeeping in Urumqui in China, a wildly successful crowdfunding appeal was set to transport the happy hound to the Aussie expat’s home in Edinburgh. Until disaster struck.
In mid-August, during the first stage of quarantine, Gobi escaped and a distraught Leonard dropped everything to fly to China to look for her – not an enviable task in a city of over 3.5 million people.
After days of anguish, false sightings, a formidable social media campaign and volunteers pounding the pavements of Urumqui, Gobi was miraculously found.
The ensuing months saw Gobi undergo hip surgery and the rigours of quarantine checks to get her ready for her new life.
Leonard was by her side in China every step of the way. Now ensconced in Scotland, Gobi has adapted to her new environment, which isn’t a million miles away from the demanding desert she appeared from.
Leonard said: “Gobi actually joined the race on day one, which started near the Tian Shan mountain range. It was colder than I expected there, with snow still on mountain tops and cold wind so Gobi doesn’t mind the unpredictable Scottish weather.
“Gobi also loves all the mountains to explore. Running the trails with her puts a big smile on my face every time.”
Despite clearly enjoying her rather cushy new existence (along with her thousands of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook followers @findinggobi), this indomitable dog is not retiring anytime soon.
Indeed, she is now a campaigner on behalf of non-ultra marathon running terriers, fundraising for charities that encourage “adopt, don’t shop” approaches to finding your own less-than-perfect pooch rather than a designer dog.
To get the whole story about the desert duo, check out Leonard’s book ‘Finding Gobi’, which will be released on June 2.