Briton Becomes First Person To Run the Length of Africa

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After more than 9,940 miles (16,000km) over 352 days across 16 countries, Russ Cook, aka the “Hardest Geezer”, has completed the mammoth challenge of running the length of Africa .

The 27-year-old endurance athlete from Worthing, West Sussex, crossed the finish line in Tunisia on Sunday afternoon, and planned to celebrate with a party – as well as a strawberry daiquiri – having raised more than £600,000 for charity.

His achievement, believed to be the first person to run tip to tip from southern to northern Africa, was the more extraordinary given several setbacks including a robbery at gunpoint in Angola, being held by men with machetes in Republic of the Congo, health scares and visa complications.

On 22 April 2023 he set off from South Africa’s most southerly point, Cape Agulhas. By the time he crossed the line at Tunisia’s most northerly point, Ras Angela, he had run the distance of about 376 marathons.

Cook was accompanied on the final leg by supporters who had flown out after following his journey on social media, as he documented his odyssey on X, Instagram and YouTube, with posts amassing millions of views.

He finished to cheers of “Geezer, Geezer” and took a well-deserved dip in the sea, telling Sky News: “I’m a little bit tired.”

On the eve of his final leg, Cook told Sky News: “It’s quite hard to put into words: 352 days on the road, long time without seeing my family, my girlfriend, my body is in a lot of pain but one more day, I’m not about to complain.”

Money raised will go to the Running Charity, which provides running and mental health programmes to young people experiencing homelessness and complex needs, and Sandblast, which promotes awareness of the Saharawi people.

During Cook’s feat he ran through rainforests, across mountain ranges and traversed the Sahara. On day 200, he reduced his daily mileage on doctors’ advice in Nigeria. “I took a couple of days to get some scans. No bone damage so figured the only option left was to stop mincing about like a little weasel, get the strongest painkillers available and zombie stomp road again,” he said at the time.

Visa problems getting into Algeria were overcome after his appeal video on X was seen by 11 million people and the Algerian embassy in the UK announced he would be given a courtesy visa.

He was due to celebrate with a finish-line party at a hotel in Bizerte, Tunisia. “Get your daiquiris ready, girls and boys, this is gonna be mega,” he wrote.

Before setting off on his challenge, Cook revealed he wanted to make a difference, saying: “I’m a totally normal bloke, so if I can do this, hopefully people can apply this to their own lives in whichever way they choose. For 99% of people, it’s not going to be running across Africa, but it might look like chasing their dreams a little bit more.”

He has called the challenge “the toughest in my life but an immense honour”, adding: “We have met incredible people in every single country we’ve been to that have welcomed us with love and kindness. The human spirit is a beautiful thing.”

Cook is not new to challenges: previous ones have included running from Istanbul to London, being buried alive for a week, and the fastest marathon pulling a car.

Alex Eagle, a friend and the co-founder of the Running Charity, where Cook worked as an adventure coach for young people before embarking on Project Africa, told the Guardian when Cook first suggested the African odyssey, “obviously it was outlandish, but we all thought he could do it”.

“He is a determined man, and he’s a man that has overcome things like a lot of the young people that we work with have overcome difficult challenges in their lives,” he added.

Eagle did worry at times for Cook going into the unknown, but whenever they spoke he was “positive, always positive, always one step ahead in the moment, really grateful for the experience, really grateful for the people he’s met … That is his personality.”

“If you are squeamish, the images of his feet are quite horrific at times,” Eagle added. Of the challenges, he said: “The scale of it. You hear it, but you don’t really comprehend it. He’s just consistently been able to bring his mind to it, to get up every day and do that. It’s just awe-inspiring.”

The charity plans a group run on his return and Cook will also be running the London Marathon with young people from the charity. “I think that will be a walk in the park for him,” Eagle said.

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