AN endurance athlete who has spent more than 280 days attempting to run the length of Africa may have to abandon his challenge over safety warnings issued by the Foreign Office.
Adventurer Russell Cook is unable to enter Algeria over UK government warnings advising against entering the northern African nation. The threat of mass wildfires, terrorism activity and kidnappings have resulted in Algeria being effectively ring-fenced across most of its borders.
As a consequence, visa issues now mean the Worthing athlete’s challenge may have hit a dead end.
The 26-year-old’s original plans had already been scuppered by visa concerns, injury and geopolitical tension after setting out from South Africa last April with the intention of running the equivalent of 360 marathons in 240 days, and reaching Tunisia’s most northerly point.
However, the Sussex tough man’s spirit remains undiminished, despite the real prospect of ending the challenge short of the finish line.
“It’s not ideal news, but we’ll find a way,” he said in Mauritania while waiting for his team and Algerian officials to attempt to get the run back on track.
A Foreign Office spokesperson reiterated its advice, but also left the door open for interpretation of its guidelines, saying: “It clearly sets out the risks involved travelling through these dangerous areas, to where we clearly advise against all travel.
“Our travel advice is just that – advice – and it is up to individuals to decide whether to follow it. Visa applications are a matter for the issuing country.”
The challenge and its visa stumbling block have also attracted the attention of Parliament, with MP Alexander Stafford – chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Algeria – writing to Algeria’s UK Ambassador appealing for help in securing the required visas.
The ultrarunner is no stranger to endurance challenges. In 2019 he spent 66 days running 1,860 miles – the equivalent of 71 marathons – across 11 countries from Asia to London.
He’s also been very open about his reasons for taking on extreme challenges. From his teenage years he battled with addiction and mental health problems.
“I don’t think sitting here as an anxious mess is going to do me any favours,” he said prior to heading for Africa.
“From the age of 17, I’ve struggled with mental health, gambling and drinking. But since I’ve turned it around, I’ve carried on ploughing through and hope to create a big impact from this.
“I’m here for 80 years at best, and I want to look back when I’m an old man and say, ‘boy, we had a tear up!’.”
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