The Hardest Geezer is The First Person To Run The Entire Length of Africa - The Running Channel Advertisement

The Hardest Geezer is The First Person To Run The Entire Length of Africa

BY: Mark Dredge
07 April 2024

Whatever happens, it will be one hell of a story,” said Russ Cook, aka the Hardest Geezer, just before beginning what seemed to most like an impossible adventure. He likely didn’t know how much of a story it would turn out to be.

Now, 352 days after starting, Cook has completed one of the most epic running challenges of all time, and has become the first person to run the entire length of Africa. 

The feat totalled running some 16,300km/10,130miles, while facing robberies, kidnappings, numerous visa and border issues, illness, injuries, route extensions and extreme weather. In completing his Project Africa run, he’s raised more than £800,000 for charities.

Cook, who’s from Worthing in the south of England, began his mission on 22 April 2023 from the southernmost point of Africa, Cape Agulhas in South Africa. He ran through 16 countries, taking over 100 day longer than originally planned because of numerous and often dramatic set-backs, before finishing at the northernmost point of Africa, in Ras Angela, Tunisia.

He arrived with a big group of runners, to a crowd of cheering friends and family. As they chanted “Geezer,” he strode toward the Mediterranean, pulled off his blue England football shirt, and dived in the sea.

The run began well. Cook’s optimism was already captivating, as was his unique way of wording his experiences. “Moving loose on day 4. Chewing up those km’s. Ferocious energy. Deserts, Jungles and a collection of the worlds most dangerous places lie ahead, but today, life was pretty fucking sweet. Bashed 57[km] out like it was a Sunday stroll. Weather slapped. Scenery even better.”

The next day their van broke down and he had to grind out 50km solo in the sun. The journey would regularly be marked by days of thrilling highs followed by terrible lows.

On day 14, a couple of guys ran alongside Cook. When he saw that they weren’t wearing running clothes, and one held a weapon, Cook knew he was in trouble. He outran one guy, but the second ran alongside him, and they started talking. Cook seems like the kind of guy who can talk people both into, and out of, things. It’d be a skill he’d need more and more.

It took 16 days to run through South Africa and reach Namibia. “I am feeling absolutely sensational!” he shared as he ran, but his support van would need repairs before it could cross the border. Cook ran ahead and had to spend the day alone in the desert, where he ran out of food and drink. 

Day 26 was the first of many days that would hold him back with sickness. Day 27 was no better, but he still slogged out more than a marathon. Days of great positivity followed, but so did more sickness. When he started peeing blood, doctors advised a day off. 

On day 51 he crossed into Angola. He discovers the good sides of humanity on day 64. He posted: “Seen a lot of rural Angola in the last couple of weeks and one thing that’s really stood out to me is how much family & community is valued here. Everywhere I go people are together. Beautiful to see.” But as often happened, bad followed good.

The next day he has a gun pointed in his face. The team lost cameras, phones, cash, passports and visas, but they kept their lives. Soon they had an Angolan police escort rolling with them, and the vibes are back. But losing their passports led to a two-week delay, and a 4,000km round-trip drive back to Namibia to get new documents to proceed. 

It took 102 days to get into the fourth country: the Democratic Republic of Congo, where bad followed good once again.

His team are invited into a small village by the chief one day, then the next day he faces a chief who demands money from him. He had none and was marched into bushes by men with machetes. He posted about the crazy adventure that followed. Read for yourself below – it’s a scene from a horror movie.

With more delays, and more route issues and visa problems, the hope of being home for Christmas was gone, but Cook just carried on, relentless enthusiasm in the face of endless days of running ultramarathon after ultramarathon on hard African tarmac. 

Following his Instagram posts and YouTube channel become thrilling entertainment. You laugh and cry, are shocked and saddened, smile at humanity, and are in awe of his ongoing achievement. We come to have no idea what each new post will say, but we’re increasingly invested and inspired by how he’s dealing with all the challenges he faces – what started out as a crazy Quixotic idea is very real. The ups and downs carry on.

The clutch goes on the van. A passerby tows them to help and ends up crashing their van into a parked truck, causing even more damage. It takes a week to fix.

Families host him in Congo. He plays football with kids on the streets. He bought a crocodile. 

He crossed the equator on day 155. He crosses Gabon. There’s no phone service in the jungle, so there are big gaps in updates. On day 163 he makes it into Cameroon, country six of 16. He’s buying a football shirt in each new country. He’s showing his support of the home team.

More food poisoning, this time it knocks out three days. It rains so hard one night that he showers outside in the storm. Nigeria comes on day 182. One day, after running 61km, he gets stuck into a game of football with the locals. Another day he’s drinking homebrewed palm wine. He’s not just there passing through in his size nine Hokas, trying to complete the thing. He’s there to be part of the world around him – that comes to be what we enjoy the most from this adventure, and the people in his comments are all upbeat and encouraging. The charity fundraising starts to increase exponentially as more people see that he’s actually doing this wild endeavour.

A back injury lays him out for a few days. Benin comes next, then Ghana. The pains don’t relent as his body breaks down. More days off, but he isn’t stopping. “If I can’t run, I’ll walk. If I can’t walk, I’ll crawl. If I can’t crawl, I must be dead,” he says. There’s still 7,000km to go. It was 39ºC the day he crossed into Ivory Coast. With the help of Intel, he gives 15 laptops to a local school. Guinea is the next country. 

On day 271 he reached Senegal, country 13. It brings unlucky news: they can’t get visas for Algeria. He puts out a plea for help. While he waits for news, he keeps heading north through Mauritania, at least 50km a day, every day. The plea works: on day 283, they get approval to enter Algeria, meaning they can complete the challenge.  

After 304 days, he’s in the Sahara. He endures harsh sandstorms and no roads to follow. He has to stop one day because of hail and snow – in the desert

Finally he announces a definite finish date: 7 April. Instead of counting up, he’s counting down: 48 days to go. He starts running through the night to avoid the heat of day in the desert. There’s a succession of days and nights over 70km. “They said impossible. They don’t anymore. 332 days in, 19 to go,” he posts

He starts running with goggles on, his long red beard now tied with a hair band, and he yells into his camera for his daily update.

The tone becomes one of celebration as the countdown runs into the final days. There’s just excitement now, and the charity donations continue to go up. All the money is being split between The Running Charity, Sandblast and Wateraid. The momentum behind his run becomes thrilling to watch.

On day 349, he reaches Tunisia, his 16th country on the run. He’s averaging over 70km a day to get this done. It’s incredible to watch, and he’s smiling all the way to the northernmost point on the continent.

The final day’s run is a marathon, with an open invitation to run along with him, whether for the whole leg or parts of it. A crowd wait for him in Ras Angela, the Mediterranean behind them. When Cook arrives, he runs down sand dunes with a brightly coloured crowd of running alongside him, reminiscent of Forrest Gump. The crowd surround him and celebrate his incredible achievement. Cook looks like he can barely believe that it’s over, and it looks like he’s got a lot more stories to tell – but he’d like an ice cold strawberry daiquiri first.

This run was captivating because of the way Cook persevered and stood up to each challenge. It showed us some bad things about bad people, but more than that it revealed a continent of good times, of incredible sights, smiling faces, and a lot of different football shirts. He reached his finish line in an old blue England away shirt, which he’d worn many times throughout his run. A patriotic display and one that told everyone that he was the visitor in this great continent, and he was there to play, but he was going to win, whatever happened.

Is this the greatest tale of endurance – physical, psychological, real-life danger – that any runner has ever completed?  

Main pic by Guus Van Veen



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