WHEN north Hampshire personal trainer Jason Briley finished his first Iron Man contest in 2010, he was celebrating much more than the completion of one of the toughest endurance races in the world.

The then 38-year-old father of two had swum 2.4 miles in open water, cycled 112 miles around the undulating countryside of north west England, and run his first marathon past cheering crowds in Bolton – and had finally out-run the demons of most of his adult life.

Jason’s journey to become an Iron Man saw him overcome more challenges than most. Tipping the scales at 21 stones, he had piled on the pounds after ten years of drug and alcohol addiction ended in 2004.

His problems started when he was a soldier in the Army.

“At school, I was the naughty boy who was always in trouble for wanting to make people laugh,” says Jason. “The Army was a good reason to leave school and home behind, so I went in as a junior soldier in the Royal Engineers when I was just 16,”says Jason.

After a hard first year, Jason tried out for the coveted maroon beret of the Paratroopers. “It was a really tough three-week pre-para course. I passed but came 16th with only 14 places up for grabs on the next stage – P-Company.

“I could have tried again, but I didn’t. I gave up, and that feeling of being a failure stayed with me for years.”

On leave in Andover Jason dived into a world of partying and drugs trying almost everything on offer except needles.

“I would do anything – acid, coke, ecstasy, ketamine – everything apart from needles. I knew if I did that I’d be a heroin addict and I’d never seen anyone come out of that; they all ended up in jail or dead.”Jason contained his addiction while in the Army but once he came out, things got worse, and he had a family to consider.

“I met Hilary in Andover when she was 18. We got together in the February, were married in July and had our son in December. Our daughter was born 18 months later.

“Once I came out of the Army, I started DJing full-time, and I landed a record deal. Drugs were readily available and I was earning enough to buy what I needed and still support my family.

“I moved on to neat vodka; I called it liquid speed. It meant I could sleep again but I was just swapping one addiction for another. In one night with a mate, we could get through a couple of bottles between us - neat.”

Jason carried on doing both drugs and alcohol for another year before he was diagnosed with keratoconus, a naturally-occurring distortion of the cornea which needed an operation.

It turned out to be a lifeline.

“The doctor told me if I did drugs in the ten weeks after the operation, it would fail and I could lose the eye.

“So I stopped. I spent two weeks at home with no drugs and one Sunday morning I was sitting on the bed, with my arm around Hilary and the kids bouncing up and down around us, and I thought: this is awesome.”

Jason cancelled all his DJ bookings, sold his 4,000 records, dropped his drug-taking friends and got a job in IT.

“After so many years saying I was going to give up, after huge stretches with no sleep, crying into Hilary’s arms, going mad in my head, I was finally clean.”

But in the eight months after giving up drugs, Jason’s weight ballooned from 13.5 stones to 21.

“I had a new addiction: food. There were no limits; I ate everything I fancied. 

“I didn’t know how much weight I had gained until I jumped on the scales for a laugh at a party and I weighed 18st, It really shocked me but I didn’t stop eating.” he said.

By 2008 Jason had reached 21 stone and a routine health check revealed a cholesterol count of 7.5. His GP recommended the gym and a weight loss programme, but Jason ignored the advice and carried on until one day he realised he couldn’t tie his shoes without sweating.

“I gave in. I went to the local leisure centre, and they wrote me an exercise programme.”

It was at the leisure centre that Jason first thought about entering a race.

“The staff invited me to do a 5k run. I said OK reluctantly, and when I turned up on the day I was one of the fattest there.

“But I wasn’t last and as soon as I crossed the finish line and got my medal I was hooked.”

Jason decided he needed to join a running club but didn’t want anywhere that would take things too seriously.

“Andover Triathlon Club welcomed me with open arms. I was the biggest there, but they were so positive and within three months I was on the start line of my first triathlon, a 250m swim, 10-mile cycle and 1.5-mile run.”

Jason heard members talking about Iron Man races and, when he found out what they were, he couldn’t believe it.

“I asked them: ‘What – you do that all in one day? When do you sleep?’ It was impossible but I wanted that finisher’s tattoo.”

Jason did a half Iron Man first – a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile cycle and a half marathon.

“I did that in 2009 and in 2010 I went to Bolton for my first Iron Man.

“It was crazy. I was still 17.5 stones and I had pasties in my backpack, but it was everything I imagined it would be. I didn’t want it to finish.”

“It wasn’t just Iron Man, it was everything.

“My kids, who were teenagers by this time, got the best cuddles, too, right there on that carpet.

“When I got back to Andover, I had my finisher tattoo. It looks awesome, and every time I look at it I get a warm feeling knowing that a big fat guy said he was going to do something really tough and then went and did it.”

“Then I realise that guy was me.”

Jason did six more Iron Man challenges with a double in 2014 – a 4.8-mile swim, a 232-mile bike and a 52.4-mile run.

“After the double, I finally forgave myself for my failure to make it through the Para course in the Army,” says Jason. “The debt was settled. I was finally proud of myself.”

Jason just had one challenge left: his battle with food.

He qualified to represent GB in his age group in both the European long and middle distance championships and the world championships in Sweden.

Jason completed the European long distance championships, finishing 6th Briton in his age group, and went on to take part in the World Championships in Sweden.

Today, the 44-year-old runs two Dawn Breakers classes in Newbury, has jointly built up a Parafit group in Andover to more than 80 members a week, and has qualified as a personal trainer.

“I’m finally the person I want to be. I’m happy, but there is always a new challenge tapping at my brain. What next, I wonder?”