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Russ Cook completes mission to run the length of Africa

A story of almost insurmountable obstacles, Cook’s journey is an incredible reflection of the human spirit. But it’s already plagued by criticism not 24 hours past the finish line.

If you run regularly, you’re part of just 20% of the population (17% for women).

If you run a marathon, that statistic drops to 0.17%.

But Russ Cook, known as the ‘Hardest Geezer’ to his 1 million Instagram followers, just completed a run that nobody else has ever accomplished. Over 352 days, Cook ran the entire length of the African continent, starting in South Africa almost a year ago.

He finally arrived at the northern-most of Tunisia, Ras Angela, on Sunday, where a handful of reporters awaited him. His first request was a strawberry daiquiri.

To really put that into perspective, Cook’s journey saw him cover around 16,000km, running the equivalent of around 376 marathons in just under a 12 months.

Given how few of us will ever attempt even a single marathon in our lifetime, Cook’s motivations for such a gruelling challenge have piqued the media’s interest.

The 27-year-old said he had struggled with his mental health, gambling, and drinking, and wanted to ‘make a difference.’ By the time he arrived in Ras Angela, Cook had raised over £500,000 for charity – a number that’s almost doubled in the days since.

But despite the outpourings of support that came as Cook crossed the finish line, his achievement has already been plagued by criticism. Much of this negativity has been aimed at the media, who many have called out for only jumping on the story in the past few days.

Cook’s videos have amassed millions of views on social media, where he’s been sharing daily updates of his progress to a growing number of followers. By comparison, mainstream coverage has been minimal at best.

Only a handful of major news outlets met Cook in Ras Angela, and even fewer had been tracking his progress – particularly in the earlier days of his journey.

Many have pointed out that while raising £500,000 for charity (the amount Cook had raised by the time he completed the run) was an incredible achievement, it was far less than he deserved, given the scale of his mission.

The money will go towards the Running Charity, which provides running and mental health programmes for young people experiencing homelessness and complex needs, and Sandblast, which promotes awareness of the Saharawi people.

‘It’s really angering me that the mainstream media have only just jumped on the story now that it’s finished [,] they should’ve been publicising this a long time ago! It’s disgraceful they are only piggybacking the story now to consume the algorithm,’ said one reddit user.

Others have highlighted the immense hurdles – both physical and psychological – that Cook had to face before reaching Tunisia.

Besides the huge impact that running for so long would have had on his body, Cook was also kidnapped, robbed, and at one point went missing during the course of his journey across the continent.


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A post shared by Russ Cook (@hardestgeezer)

In Angola, Cook was robbed at gunpoint. He lost his passport and Visas, which at one point threatened to end his journey. The Algerian embassy eventually granted Cook a ‘multi-entry visa’ on the spot, which allowed him to cross through the country and continue the run.

Cook also faced life threatening illnesses, but never gave up.

‘He had so many medical issues and hospital visits, but he never stopped. He was told not to run by many Dr’s, so instead of doing 60k a day he just did 30k instead,’ said one of Cook’s followers.

Indeed, Cook never thought of giving up. ‘No, I always knew it was inevitable, just need to keep plugging away one step at a time and eventually it would get done’ he said.


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A post shared by Russ Cook (@hardestgeezer)

This hasn’t stopped some individuals from within the running community casting doubt on Cook’s achievement. Not 24 hours after he crossed the finish line, The World Runners Association (WRA), a group of nine athletes who have successfully circumnavigated the globe on foot, claimed that one of their members, Jesper Kenn Olsen, had already run the full length of Africa.

According to their reports, Olsen began his challenge in December 2008 and completed the run in 2010.

‘Mr Olsen ran through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa. He hereby fulfilled the criteria for a full-length run across Africa,’ said Phil Essam, the president of the WRA.

Cook’s journey was, however, significantly longer, as he ran the length of the continent along the west coast, and not as the crow flies.

Many of his supporters are angered that disputes like those by the WRA have overshadowed a momentous achievement, as many major news outlets have refrained from labelling Cook the ‘first’ person to run the length of Africa.

But ‘The Hardest Geezer’ doesn’t seem phased. When asked about Olsen, he simply said ‘I haven’t heard anything about it, to be fair. But there’s plenty of people before me that have done lots of big runs and kudos to all of them because they are big challenges. So nothing but respect, really.’

This attitude is arguably what’s earned Cook so many online supporters. But it also proves his reasons for completing the run were entirely unmotivated by fame and glory. Instead, it was a chance to prove something to himself. And make a difference to others in the process.

Whether others follow in Cook’s footsteps remains to be seen. But regardless of what he does next, Cook’s story serves as a testament to what can happen when you just put one foot in front of the other, and never give up.