Book Review: ‘Finding Gobi’ by Dion Leonard

Finding Gobi is the real-life journey of how an Australian ultramarathoner living in Scotland adopted a stray dog called Gobi. As Leonard competes in the 2016 Gobi March, a 155-mile, 7-day stage ultramarathon held in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and China, he unexpectedly attracts a small canine follower.

Despite fierce sandstorms, scorching heat and deep water Leonard and Gobi stick together. The loveable dog accumulates over 70 miles of running in three stages without eating.

This impressive feat is only the beginning.

In the months following the race Leonard struggles to overcome greater obstacles, once Gobi goes missing. The overwhelming public support and global media attention raises over £20,000 through crowdfunding. Leonard organises a major search party, which takes weeks and sees him witness the unwavering commitment and also rude disinterest of the local people. Gobi is eventually found, but has a damaged hip. Leonard is forced to take risks as he rents rundown accommodation, takes a sabbatical and waits many months for Gobi’s medical checks and travel permits to clear. Even the journey across China and through Europe back home is fraught with delays.

The book offers advice on running ultramarathons, some more obvious than others.

Competitors should never carry food in cans due to the unnecessary weight, and racing strategies should be built around pacing steadily without exhausting the body. There is also an etiquette to racing: any unfair advantage should be rebalanced during the race, as strength and endurance, not cunningness and deceit, are the true measures of success.

This supports the community spirit of the ultrarunning circuit, which is demonstrated through Leonard’s relationship with Tommy Chen, a Taiwanese competitor, and the tale of Cliff Young, a former Australian farmer and ultrarunner.

Ultimately, multi-stage ultramarathons are painful and expensive experiences, but with expert medical staff, the races are life-changing.

Leonard also includes an honest account of his childhood in the Australian outback, where traditional farming values often cement family bonds. However, his father, who Leonard later discovers is his stepfather, dies when Leonard is nine. He grows up an outsider, as his relationship with his mother deteriorates and never fully recovers. Winning extreme running races, after being overweight as an adult, becomes a major motivator to reinvent himself.

The heart-warming story proves that ultramarathons can have a far greater impact not only on the finisher but on the world (and a small dog).

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