Runners participating in one of the most difficult races in the world had some tough competition from an unlikely source: a local dog nicknamed Cactus.
The Marathon des Sables, a 140-mile race, began this past Sunday. Approximately 800 runners were at the starting line to begin the grueling event, which takes people through the challenging terrain in the Sahara desert, all while battling intense heat.
But on Monday the runners had to deal with an additional challenge. During a treacherous section, near the Erg Chebbi, a local dog joined the race — and basically blew the competition away.
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“That dog was a beast; he ran right past me and I couldn’t keep up,” Theo Holzapfel, a London runner, told The New York Times. “I kept following his footprints; I figured he knew where the hard sand was.”
While Cactus did not participate in Sunday’s leg, the dog did run most of the race, including 15 miles on Monday, 23 miles on Tuesday and 47.4 miles on Wednesday, according to the outlet. (The organization gave runners 31 hours to complete the Wednesday part; Cactus did it in just over 11 hours.) In all, he has run more than 100 miles.
Runners definitely took care of the dog, providing water and food for him along the way. The medical team gave him a clean bill of health, while the race podiatrist said the dog doesn’t even have any blisters on his paws.
“It’s just impossible to stop him from running, so the organization treats him as a prince, feeds him and gives him water all the time so he can stay healthy!” the organization wrote on its Facebook post. “His paws looks good actually, he seems pretty used to long distances.”
Some of this may have to do with Cactus’ lifestyle.
“I know he’s having the greatest time,” Karen Hadfield, the owner of Cactus, whose real name is Diggedy, wrote on Facebook. “He is a nomad dog and often travels 40 Km a day around this area…just for fun.”
She added that she desperately misses him, but because he is providing much-needed motivation to runners, she will let him complete the race and pick him up on Saturday.
“He has already proven to be such an inspiration…so how could I not let him finish. But everyone here misses him,” she wrote on Facebook.
While many runners were excited to have Cactus on the run, some shared their concerns for the dog, and the fact he was able to freely roam so far from his home. Hadfield explained how her dog was not the typical house pet.
“Diggedy is an unusual dog who chose us. We respect his freedom and he knows he will always be able to come and go as he pleases. I have nursed him through some terrible times and helped him to heal some awful wounds, in return he has helped me get through some difficult times of grieving,” she writes. “I will not hold him captive. I know where he is and he is happy. He will come home when his job is done. He is faithful and at the moment he is faithful to the runners who he inspires with my blessing.”
This isn’t the first time we have written about dogs crashing races. There is the famous dog Gobi, who ran in the 155-mile competition through the Gobi Desert; Khemjira Klongsanun of Thailand, who recently carried a puppy 19 miles; and a dog named Arthur who joined an extreme adventure team while trekking through the Amazon and got adopted by one of the athletes.