When Jason Briley crossed the finish line of his first Iron Man competition 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 managed to out-run the demons that had been on his heels for 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 finally came to an end in 2004.
His problems started when he was still 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 regular soldier in the Royal Engineers when I was just 16.”
After a difficult first year, Jason decided to try for the maroon beret of the Paratroopers.
“It was a really tough three-week course and I didn’t make it onto the next stage. 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 after a stint in the Gulf, Jason dived headlong into a world of partying and drugs.
“I thought, yeah, I’ll give that a go. It was down to my hyperactivity, I think – my thirst for fun and trying something new, something exciting.”
Soldiering on during the week, and DJing and partying at the weekends, Jason tried almost everything that was on offer.
“I would do anything: acid, LSD, coke, ecstasy – 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 managed to contain his addiction during his time in the Army, but once he came out, things got worse, and by this time he had a family to consider.
“I met Hilary when she was 18. We got together in the February, were married in July and had our daughter in December. Our son 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.
“What I couldn’t see was that Hilary was struggling. I was doing late nights and drugs and spending long weekends away. Hilary wasn’t coping, but I just couldn’t see it.”
Jason reached rock bottom when he went to a London dealer to buy drugs and bought so much that the dealer thought Jason was pushing drugs himself.
“I was putting myself in dangerous situations and I was needing to use more and more. Sleeping was also a major problem, and I was becoming desperate – but I still needed that high.
“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.”
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 required an operation to correct it.
It turned out to be a lifeline.
“The doctor told me if 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 without doing drugs and one night 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. I knew my mates were out clubbing and doing drugs and I knew I didn’t need it anymore. That enforced break from drugs gave me the chance to see the world through the real Jason’s eyes. It was the kick I needed.”
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 weighted 18st. It really shocked me but I didn’t stop eating.”
By 2008, Jason had reached 21 stone and a routine health check revealed a cholesterol count of 7.5. The 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 even bend down to tie his shoes without breaking into a sweat.
“I gave in. I went to Leisure Centre, and they wrote me an exercise programme. I hated it. I would go in on the Monday with good intentions, and then not go in again until the next Monday.
“But eventually, it got to Monday and Tuesday, and then Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and as it went on the gaps got fewer. I started to enjoy the fact I was able to do more each time, but although I was much fitter and had dropped to 18 stones, I was still eating all the wrong things – I was trying to out-train a bad diet.”
It was at the leisure centre that Jason first thought about entering a race.
“The people there 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. I thought, right what’s next. I moved on to 10k and then 10 miles. I was finally doing something positive, and I was getting faster, fitter and stronger.”
Jason decided he needed to join a running club but didn’t want anywhere that would take things too seriously.
“I was scared – they would all be so much fitter and faster than me – so I decided I would try a triathlon club where running wouldn’t be the only focus.
“They 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, which was a 250m swim, 10-mile cycle and 1.5m run.
“I was so nervous about not finishing – especially as I hate swimming! – but I did it and I was buzzing.”
Gradually, Jason became aware that a few of the members were 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?’. I thought it was impossible but I wanted that cool finisher’s tattoo.”
Jason completed a half Iron Man first, which saw him tackle a 1.2m swim, 56m bike, and half marathon.
“I did that in 2009 and then in 2010 I went to Bolton for my first Iron Man. It was crazy. I was still 17.5 stone 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.
“When I approached the finish line and saw Hilary cheering me on, every cold, wet, early morning training session, every seven-hour cycle, my battle with food, my battle with drugs and drink, and the last 15 hours of the race hit me all at once and I properly sobbed into her arms.
“I stood at the side of the red carpet not caring about time ticking away. This was my moment and I wanted to share it with the person who had always supported me 100 per cent.
“When I got back home, I had my finisher tattoo done. 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 went on to do six more Iron Man challenges, including an incredible double Iron Man in 2014, which saw him complete a 4.8mile swim, 232mile bike and 52.4mile run.
“After the double, I finally forgave myself for my failure 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.
After Enduroman, he qualified to represent GB in his age group in both the European long and middle distance championships and the world championships in Sweden.
“It was unreal: I never thought I would wear a GB suit. That was something that happened to other people; slimmer, serious people – not me. But I was selected, and I knew I couldn’t skirt around my food issues anymore.
“I started a balanced, healthy low-processed, nutrition programme and with all the training I was doing, within six weeks I dropped from 15st to 13.8. I was finally eating clean.”
Jason completed the European long distance championships, coming 6th in his age group, and went on to take part in the World Championships.
Today, the 46-year-old runs his own Personal training Business and his very succesfull 4hour SuperHIIT challenge events, where clients come and get put through their paces in a gym together to try and complete 4 exercise sessions back to back with the aim of being awarded their medals and certificates at the end. ,
But now his sights have turned to his original skill set, learned in his army service. He is opening his Fitness and Nutrition 6 week Bootcamp brand “Superfit”. Held at Trinity School, Newbury, it sold out the 36 places on the ,6:15am class within 72 hours of going live. And has had a great response to the 7am, class. He has employed the services of a Nutritionist, Claire Foss, Sports massage Therapist, Danni Bannan, and Personal Trainer Sophiee Walters to team up and work together to provide a life-enhancing, All encompassing, community feel 6 week fitness and nutrition journey, that clients will learn from and take forwards after the course into their own lives as well as their friends and families.
“45 minutes of intense exercise before work or the school run in the early hours is the best time to get it done, the rest of the day is yours to enjoy with endorphins released, good food followed after, and a new zest for life as your health fitness rapidly increases, among peers that become a support network” he says.
“I’ve turned my hobby into my life and I love helping others with their own struggles. I know I’m good at it, I’m funny for an old bloke, I’m enthusiastic, I’m hyper-motivating. I’m Knowledgable, But above all I empathy with my clients. I seem to have a knack on how to read them as individuals from day to day. This really helps get the best out of them”
He he accredits his success to his wife, Hilary.
“My wife has always been there for me. I don’t know how she did it, but she says she never forgot the real me. She took hold of me and told me she knew the dad and husband I could be and she was prepared to wait for me to come back.
“Now I’m finally the person I want to be. I’m happy. And becoming a Granddad to my daughters boy, Sonny this year has topped of this journey. Superfit Bootcamp is a legacy I want to create for him”
to book on to Superfit Bootcamps or for more info go to www.superfitbootcamp.com