This adorable dog ran an ultramarathon — and won an owner

Dion Leonard had arrived in China last June looking for glory.

The Australian-born, Scotland-based ultramarathoner had previously trekked across South Africa’s Kalahari Desert, trudged through France’s booze- and cheese-fueled Marathon du Médoc dressed like a pig, and run the brutal Sahara Desert, twice. Now, he was hoping to nab first place during a seven-day, 155-mile race through the Gobi Desert.

But then a little stray dog, soon-to-be dubbed Gobi entered his life and changed everything, sending Leonard on a journey that would extend long after he crossed the finish line.

Gobi celebrating Chinese Holiday.Dion Leonard
In the new book “Finding Gobi” (Thomas Nelson, out Tuesday), Leonard chronicles their bonding race across the Gobi sands and the agonizing days and months it took to bring the dog to his family’s home in Edinburgh.

“For such a small dog, she’s incredibly strong,” the 42-year-old Leonard told The Post.

Leonard first encountered the little brown mutt at the camp where the racers were sleeping, but assumed she belonged to one of the volunteers.

He was surprised the next day when, as he was getting ready to start the second leg of the race, he looked down to see the adorable pup making eyes at him.

“I was like, ‘You’ve gotta go away or you’re going to be trampled,’ ” he recalled.

Yet Gobi, as Leonard would later name her, was a born runner — keeping pace with him for nearly 26 miles in the punishing heat.

“People were clapping and cheering,” he said.

Pretty soon, the competitive Leonard was more concerned with the dog’s well-being than with winning. He carried Gobi across bodies of water. He shared his limited food and water supply with her.

“I would whistle, and she would come,” he said. “We had this amazing bond.”

When he finished the race in second place, Gobi was by his side.

“I called my wife [Lucja] that night, and she said, ‘I guess you’re bringing [Gobi] home with you,’ ” he said.

Dion Leonard watching Gobi run in the Gobi desert.

But Gobi wasn’t allowed to go to Edinburgh right away. First, she had to see a veterinarian in the city she would be flying out of, which meant the Leonards had to find someone to transport her from Urumqi — where the pup had been staying with one of the race organizers — to Beijing, 1,800 miles away. Once she arrived in the United Kingdom, Gobi would then have to spend four months in quarantine in London before she could go to Scotland.

But suddenly, the organizer who had been taking care of Gobi stopped returning Leonard’s calls.

“I couldn’t sleep. I was so worried and stressed,” he remembered. It turned out that Gobi had been missing for 10 days, possibly more. There was only one thing to do: “I had to go back to China.”

‘She was the same Gobi, and I wasn’t going to leave until I could take her with me.’

 - Dion Leonard

Countless strangers donated money online to help fund Leonard’s trip to find Gobi. The Chinese media picked up the story, and soon the search party grew from five people to 50. Even with all that optimism behind him, Leonard had his doubts.

“There are so many stray dogs in China, I didn’t think we would ever find her,” the runner said.

But after five days in Urumqi, one of the search party’s leaders received a photograph from a stranger who thought he had possibly seen Gobi in an alley. The little dog’s hair was matted, she had a new scar on her head, and her rib was injured after being hit by a car.

None of that deterred Leonard, however.

“She was the same Gobi, and I wasn’t going to leave until I could take her with me,” he said.

A year after their first meeting, Gobi is now enjoying life in Edinburgh. She especially loves playing with the family’s 9-year-old cat, Lala.

“They sleep together on the couch,” said Leonard. “They love each other.”

He’s now training for another ultramarathon, but Gobi will have to settle for cheering her buddy Leonard on from the sidelines.

“No more multiday races for her,” he said.

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