Finishing seventh in a half-marathon isn't usually a big deal, unless the participant happens to be a sweet bloodhound named Ludivine, who'd wandered into the Alabama race by accident.
April Hamlin's 2-year-old dog wasn't expected to be a factor during Jan. 16's inaugural Elkmont Half Marathon, which began downtown and ventured along rolling rural roads, about a 45-minute drive northwest of Huntsville.
"[We] had let her out of her pen the night before and that's where she ended up," Hamlin wrote on Facebook the day after the race.
Speaking with TODAY.com via email Monday afternoon, Hamlin said that while she was relieved when friends at the race texted her to say Ludivine was safe and accounted for, another concern crossed her mind. "My first reaction was that I was worried she had gotten in the way of serious runners who had trained for the event," she wrote. "And that Barry Pugh, the race coordinator (also a work colleague) would kill me."
Showing up at the starting line, Ludivine must've felt the spirit of competition among dozens of human runners — and, based on her fast start, perhaps a runner's high as well.
Gregg Gelmis, who founded the regional running group We Run Huntsville, photographed much of Ludivine's unexpected run. He said the dog had a blistering start, placing second at the half-mile mark. "The next time we saw [her, Ludivine] was at 8 miles in the aid station," he wrote on his website. "By this time she had fallen back to fourth place, but still looked good."
Via email to TODAY.com, sixth-place finisher Tim Horvath, who greeted the pup in the parking lot, vouched for this account. "Somewhere around mile 2 or maybe just a bit past, I saw Ludivine again. She had stopped to eat some roadkill rabbit that was in the road. When I got close to her she picked up her head and started running again, near me. … [Later, she took] a detour and wade into a creek for a drink of water. Twice she stopped next to the trail for a potty break."
Earlier this month, Horvath told Runner's World that rather than keeping her eye on the prize, Ludivine also ventured off-course to mingle with mules and cows before rejoining her human competitors.
This came as no surprise to the dog's owner. "Ludivine was bred to be a tracking dog at the local prison and was culled due to her inability to focus on the task at hand," Hamlin told TODAY.com.
Ludivine would need a little resolve to get to the finish line, but against 165 human runners, she still (unofficially) finished seventh with a final time of 1 hour, 32 minutes and 56 seconds — just a few paws behind Horvath. "When I finished, I heard the finish volunteers asking me 'Is that your dog?' (no, not mine) 'Did she run the whole race?' (yes, yes she did)," he wrote.
Consider Hamlin impressed. "I can't run a mile in that time," the owner later joked on Facebook, "but Lu's exceptional debut into running has me inspired."
And, of course, Ludivine received a participation medal for her efforts, and looked rather stately in victory.
Her owner April told TODAY.com via email that "right after the race, she sacked out," beside her shiny new hardware.
Gelmis reveled in capturing some of the sweetest moments on camera. "It was great to see the people running by and having a dog that just picked up with them," he told TODAY.com.
Hamlin said she's had mixed feelings about the story going viral, although most are positive. "The story going viral is funny to me, and everyone that knows Ludivine. She is so laid-back," she told TODAY.com. "I do hate some people are saying I should have the dog taken from me for being an irresponsible pet owner, but she is a beloved pet who is loved, more than anybody else, by my two children."
On the event's website, Gelmis wrote that even without a podium finish, Ludivine has inspired ideas for next year's half-marathon in Elkmont.
"Rumor has it, next year's race will be called the Hounddog Half, with a special award going to seventh place," he added. "Who knows, maybe Ludivine will return to challenge the front runner!"
Follow TODAY.com writer Chris Serico on Twitter.