Marathon runner Dion Leonard made headlines when he bonded with a stray dog on a 155 mile race in China. Now, their story is being shared with the world.
- Posted on Jun 16, 2017
When Dion Leonard set out to race 155 miles across the Gobi Desert in China, he never knew that the grueling journey would bring him a lifelong friend and worldwide media attention.
The Australian ultramarathon runner from Edinburgh, Scotland who's competed in 12 long distance races, was coming back from injury when he decided to take on one of the toughest courses in the world. By day 2 of the race, he was more concerned with his running companion–a tiny mutt he named Gobi who joined him on his run–than himself. The pair would go on to complete the race together, running across mountain passes and blistering sand dunes, sharing food and building an unbreakable bond–one that was tested when Gobi went missing after the race when Leonard had to return home and Gobi had to remain quarantined in China for six months.
Leonard spoke to Guideposts.org about their marathon of a journey, his new book, Finding Gobi, and how the little dog has taught him a big lesson about love.
GUIDEPOSTS: How did you get into ultramarathon running?
DION LEONARD: I bought a book for my wife who had been running for a few years. I made her a promise we would both go and do whatever race she opened the page too. It was to be the 250km [155 Mile] race across the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. It was my first ultra marathon.
GUIDEPOSTS: What’s the mental and physical prep for something like the Gobi Desert race?
DL: I was returning from injury and had not been running competitively for over six months so mentally I was a little fragile. Physically I was prepared, but I didn’t know if my leg injury would flare up straight away or if I would go on to finish the race. It created a lot of worry and negatives in my mind.
GUIDEPOSTS: It’s kind of amazing then that this tiny dog could manage it.
DL: I was impressed when she completed stage 2 with me, close to a marathon in length and climbing a huge mountain pass over the Tian Shan range.
GUIDEPOSTS: How big of a deal was it for you to choose to share your food and water with Gobi?
DL: A very big deal because you have to carry all of the food you need to survive the week. I knew how much food I would need for the week and had not packed any extra. Unfortunately Gobi forgot to pack her food so I would give her everything I could to make sure she wasn’t hungry.
GUIDEPOSTS: Were there moments when she kept you going?
DL: Seeing Gobi’s resilience, determination, and need to be with me no matter what the conditions and circumstances for sure took my mind off running across the soaring heat and inhospitable conditions of the desert.
GUIDEPOSTS: What did it mean to you to finish the race with her?
DL: My wife has said it was the only time she had seen me finish one of these multi stage ultramarathon races with a smile on my face. Experiencing this with Gobi was a life changing moment for both of us, we just didn’t exactly know it at the time.
GUIDEPOSTS: How likely was it that you would find Gobi when she went missing?
DL: It was a needle in a haystack operation. I knew if I didn’t go back to China and at least try to find her; I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.
GUIDEPOSTS: What was that moment like reuniting with her?
DL: The best day of my life. It was a rollercoaster ride and I was an emotional wreck. There was so much going on behind the scenes that I could only speak about it in the book after I had left the country.
GUIDEPOSTS: What’s life like now with Gobi home? Does she realize she’s a celebrity?
DL: It takes a long time to walk anywhere wherever we go, as someone always recognizes her and she loves it when they do, as she gets all the love and attention she deserves.
GUIDEPOSTS: Are there any more races in your future together?
DL: Yes, but not in the desert. We’re planning a small 2 kilometer “Jog with Gobi” day in Edinburgh to raise money for Edinburgh Dog and Cat home [a safe haven for lost and abandoned dogs and cats].
For more about their incredible story, check out our Facebook Live chat with Dion and Gobi below: