Hardest Geezer: The man who ran the length of Africa

The 27-year-old from Worthing, West Sussex, said he had struggled with his mental health, gambling and drinking, and wanted to "make a difference"

Before he set off on the mammoth challenge to run the entire length of Africa, Russell Cook said he hoped to look back at his life and have no regrets.The 27-year-old from Worthing, West Sussex, said he had struggled with his mental health, gambling and drinking, and wanted to “make a difference”.

More than 10,190 miles (16,400km), 352 days, 16 countries and countless complications later, the man nicknamed “Hardest Geezer” has raised more than £550,000 for charity and is about to complete his final run.

A change of plans

HARRY GALLIMORE Russell Cook at South Africa's most southerly point
Mr Cook initially planned to run 360 marathons in 240 days, with no rest days

A lot has changed since Mr Cook set off from Worthing, West Sussex, in February 2023.

His initial plan to run from Tunisia to South Africa, completing 360 marathons in 240 days with no rest days, was soon halted by a lack of an Algerian visa – a hindrance that would later resurface.

But after a last-minute switch, Mr Cook set off running north from South Africa’s most southerly point on 22 April – a journey that would take him through cities, rainforests, mountains and the Sahara Desert.

Armed robbery

GUUS VAN VEEN Russell Cook running alongside police car
Mr Cook and his team had cameras, phones, cash and passports stolen in Angola
After ticking off South Africa and Namibia in 50 days, Mr Cook encountered his first major setback – an armed robbery.

He and his support team had cameras, phones, cash, passports and visas stolen in Angola on 24 June.

However, as with many stumbling blocks he would face throughout the challenge, the ultrarunner vowed to soldier on.

Health scares

HARRY GALLIMORE Russell Cook having medical tests
Mr Cook underwent medical tests in Nigeria after recurring back pain

Consistently running more than a marathon a day began to take its toll.

After some minor tummy troubles in the early weeks, Mr Cook was forced to take his first rest day after doctors found blood and protein in his urine on day 45.But it was recurring back pain that caused the most concern.

On day 200, Mr Cook was forced to reduce his mileage and intensity at the request of a doctor in Nigeria – even missing consecutive days on day 205 and 206.

But in true Hardest Geezer style, he was not to be stopped.

“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 issues

GUUS VAN VEEN Russell Cook in northern Africa
Mr Cook’s social media appeal caught the attention of Elon Musk, who purchased Twitter – now called X – in 2022After overcoming everything in his path, it was a single piece of paper – an Algerian visa – that cast doubt over the entire challenge on day 278.

Mr Cook was forced to halt while he waited to find out his fate as to whether he could secure permission to cross the border into Algeria from Mauritania.

“If we don’t get the visas, then it is game over,” he said at the time.

His public appeal video on X, formerly Twitter, was seen by 11 million people – even catching the attention of the site’s owner Elon Musk, as well as MPs Tim Loughton and Alexander Stafford and the Home Office.

The increased attention on the challenge eventually paid off as the UK’s Algerian embassy announced he would receive a courtesy visa on the spot.

The final stretch

GUUS VAN VEEN Russell Cook running in the Sahara Desert
Mr Cook decided to run at night to avoid the heat of the Sahara DesertAfter the setbacks, all that separated Mr Cook and the finish line was the small task of the Sahara Desert.

The tarmac roads ran out, as did the signal and any signs of civilisation. But an end date was set: 7 April, 2024.

Ramping up his mileage to make up for lost time, Mr Cook made the decision to run through the night due to the intense daytime heat and sandstorms.

Party time

GUUS VAN VEEN Russell Cook in Africa
Months turned into weeks, and weeks turned into days. And finally, on Sunday afternoon, Mr Cook will lace his trainers one last time – at least for now – as he sets off for Tunisia’s most northerly point.Joined by supporters from across the world for the final marathon, Mr Cook will complete the challenge.

The celebrations will go long into the night – helped by a finishing party performance by British punk band Soft Play, formerly Slaves, at a hotel in Bizerte.

And the Hardest Geezer will finally get his hands on the one thing he has been craving since day one – a strawberry daiquiri.

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