Hardest Geezer – Russ Cook’s African Adventure

Kit O Callaghan Ultra X

Written By KIT O'CALLAGHAN

Kit is a recent Broadcast Journalism graduate and our newest placement student. An outdoor enthusiast, he gets stuck in to all things sports media; most recently covering mountaineering, American football, and ultra running.

3 March 2024

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If you’re looking for inspiration for your next ultra, and you’ve already watched everything on my list of the top 10 inspiring ultramarathon films, look no further than Russ Cook. The man on a mission to become the first to ever run the full length of Africa.

Russ Cook @hardestgeezer on Instagram started his mission to become the first man to run the entire length of Africa in April 2023 – over 300 days ago. Initially expected to take 240 days, Russ has had to face an armed robbery (Day 64) and other attempted robberies, kidnapping (day 102), various incidents of blood in his urine, food poisoning, visa issues (Day 278) and now as the days tick over 300, he faces the 50° heat of the Sahara Desert.

The good news though, is that he has set himself an end date. Sunday, April 7th, Day 352 of running for Russ, at the northern most tip of Africa – Ras ben Sakka in Tunisia. That will be the end of his 15,000+km journey. To celebrate this announcement, I thought I’d take a look into his journey so far…

 

DAY 1 – Russ started his journey at the southernmost tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas on the 22nd of April 2023. An experienced ultra runner, having already run from Asia to London in 66 days, Russ planned to start his African adventure in November 2022 however visa issues with the Algerian consulate halted that, something which would again affect him on Day 278. Starting from humble beginnings, Russ launched a Patreon fundraiser in February 2023 to help cover the costs of the project which included shipping his support van over to South Africa. He even got his passport number tattooed on his arm in case he was kidnapped or had it stolen whilst completing the mission. After years of preparation and delays, Russ finally began his journey on 22nd April 2023.

 

DAY 14 – Attempted robbery number #1. As Russ neared the border between South Africa and Namibia, he was approached by two men he believed to be trying their luck at robbing him. One, Russ claimed, couldn’t keep up, whilst the second he managed to ‘befriend’ after a chat and 10mins of running together.

 

DAY 16-18 – Russ arrives at the Namibian border. The first border crossing of Project Africa, and not without its problems. Russ was told he was not able to cross the border until the support van’s smashed windscreen was fixed. Not wanting to take a logistical rest day, Russ pushed on solo across the border running through the night whilst his team went to fix the van, only for him to run out of water on Day 17 and having to hitch a lift with a passerby to resupply at the next town. Not wanting to cheat the mission, Russ then had to wait for his team to pick him up, take him back to where he got the lift from, and get back to it for Day 18. No wonder he described it as “the most tapped I’ve felt in a hot minute” – Russ Cook via Instagram.

 

DAY 26-28 – Food poisoning. Russ gave a vivid description of this over on his Instagram account, the start of which I will write here: “The day that was always coming. Woke up with muddy water falling out my arse and vomit falling out my face. Not ideal.” Not ideal at all from the sounds of it. Nevertheless, Russ battled on, running and walking whilst throwing up and cramping. He managed 21.1km despite his condition.

 

DAY 29 – Russ starts to recover from his food poisoning. Describing himself as “not 100% yet” but able to eat food without spewing it straight back up again, Russ was back to 50km days.

 

DAY 32 – Mo Farah sends a message of support. How do you motivate the man who is providing the motivation? Well, getting a message from Mo Farah is sure to help. Russ is now just one day out from Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.

 

DAY 35-8 – Russ struggles with 2nd illness and another robbery attempt.

 

DAY 42 – Blood in his urine. Just when he thought he was on the mend from his second bout of illness, Russ reported to us via his Instagram and YouTube channels that he was starting to see blood in his urine…

 

DAY 45 – The rest day. Hard to believe this was Russ’s first rest day, and it was one he didn’t want to take, but after consecutive days of seeing blood in his urine he decided to see a doctor who advised taking some rest.

 

DAY 51 – Russ crosses the Angolan border.

 

DAY 54 – The longest day so far – 67.6km. Maybe a sign that Russ is starting to feel recovered from his earlier illnesses?

 

DAY 64 – The robbery. After a couple of close calls earlier on, this one could not be avoided. Men armed with guns boarded the support van and demanded everything Russ and the team had. Thankfully no-one was killed or injured, but the thieves made off with a lot of the team’s gear including cameras, 2 iPhones, all the team’s cash, passports and a “few other bits.”

 

DAY 101/102 – After a relatively quiet month, helped significantly by the presence of a police escort for the remainder of his time in Angola, Russ makes it to the DRC. A country with a turbulent history, problems started when Russ was approached by a group of men on bikes, who luckily turned out to be non-uniformed police wanting to check his papers, but this all changed on Day 102 when he became separated from his support van and stumbled into a rural village where the chief told Russ he had to give him all his money…he had none. Over the next few days Russ was held hostage and transported deep into the Congo where he encountered men with machetes. He had no food, water, money, or mobile signal, but eventually after being taken to a village hut late at night he was able to get in contact with a member of his team who spoke French and work out a rescue plan.

 

DAY 121 – The reroute. After the events of the DRC, which also caused some damage to the support van which had to go in for repairs, Russ decided to reassess his route with some expert help. He also added a new 4×4 support vehicle and two new team members.

DAY 136/137 – Support van dies. Something that had been coming for a while due to the punishing African roads. The clutch finally gave in, and the van had to be towed to Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. Unfortunately, the van was towed straight into a parked truck causing severe damage which would take 2 weeks to repair…

 

DAY 163 – Hardest Geezer reaches Cameroon (country 6/16).

 

DAY 167-170 – Another bout of illness.

 

174-178 – Blood in his urine again.

 

DAY 181-183 – Russ arrives in Nigeria (country 7/16), but the road condition is now causing significant delays. Luckily the locals were on hand to help the support vehicles get through.

 

DAY 202-208 – The problems kept piling up for Russ and the team. Russ, who had been suffering with a back problem, had to get it checked out in hospital which meant reduced mileage and a couple of rest days. One of his team members @cameramanstan_ caught malaria, something which Russ was also at risk of due to declining to take malaria tablets as they were affecting his running.

 

DAY 212-14 – Russ arrives in Benin (country 8/16). Describing himself as “a shell of a man at the moment” as he struggled with flu like illnesses and a growing list of injuries.

 

DAY 220-21 – Russ arrives in Togo (country 9/16).

 

DAY 223 – Russ arrives in Ghana (country 10/16).

 

DAY 227 – Russ reaches £100,000 raised for charity, a huge milestone in Project Africa.

 

DAY 232 – Russ arrives in the Ivory Coast (country 11/16).

 

DAY 242-247 – Russ welcomes Christmas by running 57+km and arriving in Guinea (country 12/16).

 

DAY 271 – Russ arrives in Senegal (country 13/16). Continuing to suffer with injuries but motivated to hit that finish line…

 

DAY 278 – The visa issues return. Russ once again gets rejected by the Algerian consulate putting the entire Project Africa mission in jeopardy. This time however, things were different. Russ had amassed around half a million followers on his Instagram and the community got together to fight for him, quickly resolving the issue and getting him stomping tarmac again in Mauritania the very next day.

 

DAY 284-289 – Russ locks in a new finish date for April 7th, 2024

 

DAY 300-301 – Struggling with the Sahara heat, Russ switches to “night shifts”, running in the night and sleeping during the day.

 

DAY 302 –304 – The last we’ve heard from Russ (at time of writing) as he enters the rural Sahara where the mobile signal stops. His last Instagram post went up on Day 304, February 19th but going off his average mileage in recent weeks he is likely to reach the Algerian border in the next couple of days and may regain signal in the town of Tindouf.

 

DAY 352 (pending) – The finish. If all goes well, Russ will finish his journey at the northern most tip of Africa on April 7th, Day 352 since this journey began.

If you fancy running in Africa yourself, but without the risk, why not have a look at my list of the Top 10 Ultramarathons in Africa and if you want to keep following Russ Cook’s journey, you can do so via his Instagram and YouTube channels.

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