‘Hardest Geezer’ Russ Cook enjoys a day off running after epic Africa journey

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After sinking a strawberry daiquiri and a few beers and enjoying a reunion with his girlfriend after more than a year apart, Russ Cook, AKA the “Hardest Geezer”, who completed his 9,940-mile (16,000km) run along the entire length of Africa on Sunday, woke up feeling “a little bit frosty, a little bit tired”.

And for once, the 27-year-old endurance athlete from Worthing, West Sussex, who raised more than £700,000 for charity on his epic journey, was not pulling on his running shoes. It was all “quite, quite overwhelming”, he said.

“Just trying to soak it all in really, trying to enjoy it, and the thought of not running today is a bit of a mad one. It is very, very strange,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain (GMB) live from Tunisia, where he crossed the finish line on Sunday afternoon after running for 352 days through 16 countries.

“I think my body said ‘finally, nice one mate, chill out a minute’. Need to get some stretching done, maybe today, but yeah, no running. Unbelievable.”

Cook’s challenge, to become the first to run the entire length of Africa, began on 22 April 2023 at South Africa’s most southerly tip, Cape Agulhas, and ended at Tunisia’s most northerly point, Ras Angela. It captured the imagination of the public, with his social media posts amassing millions of views.

Some doubt has been cast on whether he is actually the first to run the length of continent, with the dispute appearing to centre on what technically constitutes the length of Africa.

The World Runners Association, a group of nine athletes who have successfully circumnavigated the globe on foot, claimed one of its members, Jesper Kenn Olsen from Denmark, was the first person to run the length of Africa, during his “world run” challenge in which he ran across several continents.

Olsen is said to have begun his challenge on 28 December 2008 in Taba, Egypt, and run 7,948 miles to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, completing his journey 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 significantly longer route was from south to north and along the west coast, and not as the crow flies.

He seemed unfazed, telling GMB: “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.”

Cook faced several setbacks during his journey through rainforests, over mountain ranges and across the Sahara to raise money for 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.

He was robbed at gunpoint in Angola, held by men with machetes in the Republic of the Congo, and had health scares and visa complications.

But there was never a moment he 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.

He now plans a haircut and beard trim – “we’re looking a bit wild these days” – and will enjoy some time with his girlfriend, Emily Bell, who told GMB: “It’s been scary, terrifying at times.”

Cook said of seeing her: “It was crazy, the first time we have seen each other in 14 months. So I can’t really put into words how much that moment meant. But it’s beautiful to have a little bit of time with her.”

Speaking of the time he was most frightened, Cook said it had been when he went missing and was separated from his supporters for days in the jungle, but was eventually freed after villagers armed with machetes were paid off.

“The scariest moment was in the Congo, when I was on the back of a motorbike, thinking I was about to die, getting driven into the jungle. That was pretty nuts,” he told reporters in Tunisia. “Probably for about one minute I thought about quitting, and then I realised I couldn’t, so that was about as close as it got.”

Of his challenge overall he said: “I knew it was going to be hard but I knew I was also going into the unknown, so I had no idea really of how hard it was going to be.”

Source: theguardian.com

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