Row erupts over 'Hardest Geezer' Russ Cook’s claim of ‘record’ run the full length of Africa

8 April 2024, 10:06 | Updated: 8 April 2024, 10:12

A man dubbed the 'Hardest Geezer' has completed his mammoth challenge to run the entire length of Africa after 352 days and 16,000km travelled.
A man dubbed the 'Hardest Geezer' has completed his mammoth challenge to run the entire length of Africa after 352 days and 16,000km travelled. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

A man dubbed the 'Hardest Geezer' has sparked a row after he completed the mammoth feat of running the entire length of Africa.

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Russ Cook, from Worthing, West Sussex, set off 352 days ago, crossing 16 countries as he ran the equivalent of 385 marathons. He has claimed to be the first person to ever run the length of the African continent.

In the final leg of his endeavour he began at 10am on Sunday from a petrol garage in Ghezala, a town in north-west Tunisia, and reached the finish line at Tunisia's most northerly point in Ras Angela at around 4.40pm.

After crossing the finish line, the 27-year-old was greeted with shouts and cheers from those who had flown out to meet him, with many chanting "Geezer".

But his claim has been thrown into question by an international sporting body. The World Runners Association (WRA), which has just seven members, has claimed that one of its founders actually deserved the title of being the first.

The group says that Danish athlete Jesper Olsen achieved the feat in 2010, after running 7,949 miles from Taba in Egypt to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa - taking 434 days.

Cook says his journey from Africa's most southern to its most northern point, was 2,113 miles longer than Olsen’s.

But the group is adamant that Olsen was the first person to achieve the feat. 

The WRA said that as the length of Africa 'is calculated at 8,000km [4,971 miles] as the crow flies', it does not matter that Cook's distance was longer.

The group’s president told The Telegraph: “The World Runners Association therefore contests the claim made by British national Mr Russ Cook to be the first person to run the length of Africa."

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Mr Cook began the challenge on April 22, 2023 in South Africa's most southerly point, spending 352 days on the road running, facing health scares and even an armed robbery in his bid to become the first person to run the full length of the continent.

Speaking to Sky News after setting off on the final leg of his journey, the 27-year-old endurance athlete said he was feeling "pretty sweet".

"One more day, one final push, let's get this thing done," he said.

Russ Cook runs with his supporters through the Tunisian town of Bizerte in Tunisia up to Ras Angela
Russ Cook runs with his supporters through the Tunisian town of Bizerte in Tunisia up to Ras Angela. Picture: Alamy

"I've had a few tears this morning.

"It's quite hard to put into words, 352 days on the road, long time without seeing family, my girlfriend, my body is in a lot of pain but one more day, I'm not about to complain."

Throughout the venture, called Project Africa, Mr Cook has raised more than £650,000 for two charities, the Running Charity and Sandblast.

For the final day of his challenge, Mr Cook invited his supporters to take on the last marathon with him, with many flying out to Tunisia to run alongside him.

"How can you be tired when there's this many people running with you?," he told Sky News.

"There's so much energy."

Mr Cook also announced he will be throwing a finish line party to celebrate his feat at a hotel in Bizerte, Tunisia.

The party is set to feature a performance by the British punk rock band Soft Play, formerly known as Slaves, comprising of Laurie Vincent and Isaac Holman.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, where he has been sharing regular updates on his quest, he said: "Can't quite believe it but we've managed to pull off Soft Play playing the finish line party in Tunisia.

Mr Cook, nicknamed Hardest Geezer, began running on 22 April 2023 in South Africa's most southerly point, aiming to run the full length of the continent.
Mr Cook, nicknamed Hardest Geezer, began running on 22 April 2023 in South Africa's most southerly point, aiming to run the full length of the continent. Picture: Alamy

"Get your daiquiris ready girls & boys this is gonna be mega."

Last Tuesday, Mr Cook said the challenge had been "the toughest in my life but an immense honour".

He wrote on X: "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.

"Very grateful for these experiences and would definitely encourage anyone out there to go get after that adventure, whatever it looks like for you."

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