Updated: Ultrarunner Completes Length of Africa — But Was He the First?

Today, Russ Cook finished his south-north run along the entire length of Africa after 350 days. All along, he has said that he was aiming to become the first to finish this mega-journey.

But a press release by the World Runners Association, amplified on Facebook by fellow runner Tony Mangan, takes issue with that claim. It states that Jesper Kenn Olsen of Denmark first ran the length of Africa between 2008-2012.

It’s disheartening to see that when Jesper, myself, and even the governing body for this kind of running, the World Runners Association, and others have tried to bring this error to Russ Cook’s attention, they have been met with resistance and denial from his crew and supporters,” wrote Mangan. “As runners, we should hold each other accountable and strive for honesty and integrity within our community.”

Olsen began his run on Dec. 28, 2008 and concluded it 12,792km later at the Cape of Good Hope. His north-south route went through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Swaziland, and South Africa.

But even if Cook is simply the first to do it within a year, it remains an impressive feat of endurance. Late Friday night, the 27-year-old British athlete checked in from Tunisia, the “16th and final” country of his tour.

“Here we go. 2 days to go. Final push,” he announced.


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A post shared by Russ Cook (@hardestgeezer)

Today, Cook reached Africa’s northernmost point, Ras Ben Sakka, 22km north of the Mediterranean port city of Bizerte. It’s over 16,000 kilometers and 19 million steps north of his starting point in Cape Agulhas, South Africa.

Given the convoluted course of Cook’s yearlong journey, his success was unlikely. Cook, aka @hardestgeezer, previously endured a gunpoint robbery in Angola that cost him his passport. Customs hassles in Algeria ensued after myriad other delays had already hazed him.

Cook somehow kept his outward stoicism intact through logistical and physical challenges including diarrhea on what looks like a near-constant basis. In total, he came in over 100 days behind his original schedule despite running over a marathon every day.


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A post shared by Russ Cook (@hardestgeezer)

“The relentless nature of this mission is quite something,” Cook said after the robbery. “Problems from every angle. No respite. Till the bitter end.”

Party time

Controversy aside, the end figures to be anything but bitter. A Bizerte hotel party awaited Cook, his team, and any qualifying supporters and acolytes after he broke the tape.


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A post shared by Russ Cook (@hardestgeezer)

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.