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UK’s “Hardest Geezer” Completes 16,300 Kilometer Journey Across The Length Of Africa After 352 Days

But after a year full of plot twists, he may not be the first one to do it...

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After nearly a year of crossing deserts, mountains, and rainforests spanning 16 countries, Russ Cook, more commonly known as the Hardest Geezer, has accomplished his journey of running the entire length of Africa.

Originally scheduled to conclude by Christmas 2023, the daunting task of covering over 16,300 kilometers, equivalent to more than 385 marathons, extended to 352 days.

Throughout this journey, the fiery-haired 27-year-old from Worthing, United Kingdom, encountered countless plot twists, challenging situations, and harsh conditions along his route from South Africa to the Mediterranean coast of Tunisia.

Despite being robbed at gunpoint, enduring frustrating border delays, and bouts of foodborne illness, injury, and challenging terrain, Cook and his team carried on. On Sunday, surrounded by those he had inspired and supporters from social media, Cook completed his final marathon, marking the end of his epic adventure.

Claiming the title as the first person to run the entire length of the continent, Cook has raised over £700,000 for his chosen charities, far beyond halfway of his £1 million goal.

UK's "Hardest Geezer" Completes 16,300 Kilometer Journey Across The Length Of Africa After 352 Days 1

How Has The Last Year Played Out?

Day One: Project Africa Takes Off

On April 22, 2023, Cook embarked on his monumental challenge, one he had meticulously planned and prepared for several years. On the first day, he covered 50.6 kilometers, starting from the coastal village of L’Agulhas in South Africa, the southernmost tip of Africa.

His route led him along Africa’s west coast through Namibia, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania, and Algeria.

Robbed By Groups Armed With Guns And Machetes

Despite all preparations, there were unforeseen challenges.

Two months into the journey, Cook and his team fell victim to a robbery at gunpoint, resulting in the loss of passports, money, phones, and equipment. Following this incident, they received a police escort through Angola.

Later in the journey, Cook found himself separated from his team amidst impassable roads, narrowly escaping another group armed with machetes demanding money.

UK's "Hardest Geezer" Completes 16,300 Kilometer Journey Across The Length Of Africa After 352 Days 2

Food Poisoning And Mystery Illness

In addition to the physical strain of running ultra-marathons daily, Cook had to confront sickness and injury repeatedly. Hit by a mystery illness early on, he also endured food poisoning on multiple occasions, including a severe bout in Cameroon.

As he crossed from Nigeria into Benin on day 200, flu struck, leaving Cook feeling depleted: “Truth be told, I am a shell of a man at the moment.”

Forced Rest Following Injuries

Despite having previous injuries, including foot problems, a back injury forced Cook to take a 48-hour rest. Scans revealed no bone damage, providing reassurance he could continue

By the time he reached Guinea, Cook likened the strain on his body to feeling as though “someone has swapped my hip flexors for cheese strings.”

Visa Issues Solved By Social Media

Visa issues posed continual challenges for Cook and his team.

The most significant border hurdle emerged as they sought to move from Mauritania to Algeria after covering 12,000 kilometers. Unable to secure Algerian visas, Cook turned to social media for assistance.

His plea garnered support from British MPs, helping him get the visas he needed and bringing the finish line closer.

UK's "Hardest Geezer" Completes 16,300 Kilometer Journey Across The Length Of Africa After 352 Days 3

Battling Sandstorms and Snowstorms

Surpassing 300 days in Africa, Cook entered the Sahara, enduring ruthless weather conditions.

While facing stifling sandstorms, he also encountered violent snowstorms in Algeria’s deserts, forcing him to take shelter as needed.

Despite brief separations from his team due to vehicle breakdowns, Cook pressed forward, equipped with swimming goggles and improvised face protection.

Day 352: Reaching the Finish Line

On Sunday, Cook realized his dream of reaching Tunisia’s northernmost point at Ras ben Sakka.

Overwhelmed with emotion, he shed a few tears as he embarked on his final day.

Joined by many who had followed his journey, Cook completed the last 44 kilometers, reuniting with family, friends, and his partner at the finish line. The realization of this long-awaited moment, which had felt almost mythical, finally became a reality for the Hardest Geezer

After crossing the finish line, all Cook could manage was, “I’m a little tired.”

Is He The First To Run The Length Of Africa?

Doubt has been cast on his assertion of being the first person to cross the length of Africa, courtesy of a small faction of ultra runners.

With its seven members, the World Runners Association (WRA) claims that Danish athlete Jesper Olsen completed the feat back in 2010, covering 7,949 miles from Taba in Egypt to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa within 434 days.

Cook embarked on a route from Africa’s southernmost to its northernmost point, surpassing the Dane’s journey by more than 2,113 miles.

Nevertheless, the group firmly maintains that Olsen’s distinction as the first to accomplish the feat of covering the length of Africa remains intact.

At 37 years old, Olsen undertook the length of Africa as part of a two-year-long “world run,” commencing from the North Cape of Norway on December 28, 2008, and concluding in Cape Spear, Canada, on March 15, 2010.

The WRA contends that as Africa’s length “is calculated at 8,000km [4,971 miles] as the crow flies,” the extra distance Cook covered is irrelevant.

UK's "Hardest Geezer" Completes 16,300 Kilometer Journey Across The Length Of Africa After 352 Days 4
Photo Credit: NY Times

Phil Essam, its president, asserted, “The WRA recognizes Mr. Jesper Kenn Olsen of Denmark as the first person to have run the full length of Africa.”

In an interview with The Telegraph, Olsen subtly criticized Cook for taking breaks during his Africa run while also noting that two other WRA members, Serge Girard from France and Tony Mangan from Ireland, also completed the feat.

“Serge Girard in his world run crossed five continents and completed his run without one single day off during the entire run.”

“To compare this with Russ Cook’s run through Africa where there were several days off – I think, with all respect – is in itself a bit of a stretch, to compare a half-marathon with a full marathon.”

“So for me it’s not about putting attention on myself. But to put the right scale to things so recreational runners can get an idea of where the maximal limits are in ultra-running. And hopefully get inspired.”

Marie Leautey, a WRA member who circumnavigated the globe in September 2022, disclosed that the group had made numerous attempts to reach out to Mr. Cook during his run.

UK's "Hardest Geezer" Completes 16,300 Kilometer Journey Across The Length Of Africa After 352 Days 5

She stated, “We really congratulate Russ, we just do not want Jesper’s achievement to be denied.”

“I can accept that maybe he did not know about it or didn’t do the research or he really thought he was the first person, for some reason.”

“We contacted him [Cook] on social media, on Instagram, before this. We have tried, and now we have seen the press in the UK, saying he was the first.”

“We should get the facts right. We have no problem with him claiming to be the first to run from the most southern [point] to the most northern.”

“But when we read he is the first man to run the entire length of Africa it is just not true, from a facts perspective.”

Guinness World Records has been approached to ascertain which record they will validate as the pioneering achievement.

Photo of author
Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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