Ex-soldier runs 25 marathons over 25 days through blistering pain to honour fallen heroes


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Brian Wood knew it would be no easy feat but was determined to pay tribute to his comrades, including Private Christopher Gordon Rayment, 22, who was killed in Amarah, Iraq, and Private Lee O’Callaghan, 20, who was fatally shot in Basra

Brian went to see his late pal Lee’s beloved Millwall FC play – and to share his fundraising challenge
Brian went to see his late pal Lee’s beloved Millwall FC play – and to share his fundraising challenge

Marathon runner Brian Wood’s T-shirt bore the names of 26 fallen heroes… a stirring incentive that would push him on to cover 635 painful miles over 25 days.

The former Colour Sergeant ran 25 marathons to salute those who died in Afghanistan and Iraq and to raise funds for veterans in need of support.

When the going got tough – and it did, physically and mentally – Brian dug deep and, naturally, soldiered on.

Each day brought a different shirt with new names.

Several of the 635 men Brian was honouring were from the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment, which he served with distinction – receiving the Military Cross from the Queen after the Iraq War.

And with each mile he offered a symbolic salute to one of the fallen that meant a lot to him and, importantly, to the families of those who perished.

The runner’s t-shirt bore the names of fallen heroes

Brian ran an epic 635 miles

Brian – whose story was told in the BBC2 drama Danny Boy this year – says: “It simply wasn’t an option to fail. I put enormous pressure on myself but I showed up every morning with the mission to remember the 26 lives that were on the back of my T-shirt. The cause was far bigger than me. I had to dig deep and keep attacking each day.”

The dad of two set off from barracks in his home town of Bordon, Hants, on November 1. He called at more than a dozen other military bases on his journey to raise funds for the charity Walking With The Wounded.

Within days he had smashed his £20,000 target. He has now raised over £168,000, with a new goal of £175,000.

Brian, 41, suffered a string of injuries and fatigue threatened to get the better of him, especially on day nine.

He says: “It was November 9, the day after my birthday, and I was literally crawling up the road.

“I was battered. I’d only just got to 10 miles and I was in excruciating pain. I had to take a moment. I had a few tears. The pain in my right knee was excruciating. It felt like a blade going into it.

“I think my wife was a bit worried, and my parents, but they know what I’m like.

“I never considered throwing in the towel because that is not an option. So I just got up and carried on. But there were plenty of mornings where I’d shuffled down the stairs on my backside because the pain was so terrible.”

Brian suffered injuries – but he didn’t let it stop him

Brian, an author and motivational speaker, took part in operations in the Balkans and high-intensity combat in Iraq and Afghanistan
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Brian, an author and motivational speaker, is used to adversity. In a 16-year Army career he took part in operations in the Balkans and high-intensity combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet one of his biggest challenges came off the battlefield – a 13-year legal fight after the Battle of Danny Boy in 2004.

British troops had been ordered to remove the bodies of 20 Iraqis who died in the clash and take them to a nearby camp, along with nine prisoners of war.

The detainees – insurgents with the Shia militia Mahdi Army – later alleged they had been mistreated and claimed to have heard the torture and murder of their compatriots.

In 2014, the long-running £31million Al-Sweady Inquiry found that the most serious claims were “entirely false” and claimants had told “deliberate lies.”

Brian’s experiences stood him in good stead during his marathons epic.

He says: “I’ve been tested through endurance on operations. I’ve been tested mentally through the inquiry. I understand what it’s like to go to dark places and I knew I was going into uncharted territory with this latest challenge. But I always want to help other veterans and as long as I can breathe I will continue to.”

During weeks of meticulous research, Brian listed those who fell in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their cause of death.


Brian with his supportive wife Lucy and sons Bailey and Charlie

He explains: “I wanted to do something personal for me, but also impactful for everyone else who lost family members. I got a list via official sources but spent hours doing my own research.

“It felt really emotional and hard hitting. That’s when I came up with the idea of a mile for every soldier.”

Two names were instantly recognisable – colleagues from the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment. His pal Private Christopher Gordon Rayment, 22, was killed in Amarah, Iraq.

A week later, in August 2004, Private Lee O’Callaghan, 20, was shot in the chest in Basra. Brian says: “I was part of Lee and Christopher’s burial party. It really hit home what they sacrificed.

“That’s why I called my marathons the Ultimate Challenge because they made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Soldiers’ families are hugely grateful. Christopher’s sister Mandy, 42, from Charlton, South East London, says: “I feel so honoured he was doing it in memory of my brother.”

Last weekend, Brian went to see Lee’s beloved Millwall FC play – and to share his fundraising challenge. At half-time fans saw a video of his journey on the stadium’s big screen.

Lee’s brother Danny O’Callaghan, 34, says: “Danny’s an inspiration. It’s amazing what he’s done in memory of the soldiers. It’s such a comfort to know people are still thinking about these boys who gave their lives.”

Naomi Whittaker, who joined Brian for part of his journey, lost her son Joe, 20, when he was killed in action with the Paras in Afghanistan in 2008.

Brian’s pal Chris Rayment died in Iraq clashes
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Private Lee Martin O’Callaghan was victim a week later
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Brian says: “She told me, ‘Thank you for keeping my son’s flame alight. What you are doing is remarkable’. I was very humbled by that.

“Then there were schools in my local town. The kids brought banners and signs and cheered me on. They even sang Happy Birthday to me.”

Brian averaged 4hrs 30mins per marathon and did get below four hours on one run. He even developed a strange liking for pickled pork pies!

Good Morning Britain hosts Susanna Reid and Ben Shephard also backed him. He says: “Ben joined me for my 11th marathon and Susanna met me on Remembrance Sunday.

“By the end I had about 150 people running behind me and I was being called Forrest Gump! Everyone showed up and someone had put all the names of the fallen on trees and that made me so emotional.”

Brian is backed all the way by wife Lucy, 43, and sons Bailey, 17 – now in the Army – and 12-year-old Charlie.

“I’ve done a lot of ­challenges and Lucy had to run our business, Keep Attacking, and take Charlie to school. She was totally supportive,” says grateful Brian.

He also realises he’s one of the lucky ones. Brian goes on: “I think everyone who served on the front line could say, ‘It could have been me’.

“I was hit a number of times through ambushes. I was in a vehicle in Iraq hit by two militia missiles.

“I was in the thick of so much but I was very fortunate and you go on the next day and keep doing the job.”

Brian is resting up before a Walking With The Wounded Christmas challenge this month.

The charity provides vulnerable veterans independence through employment and mental health support.

Brian adds: “It’s great if ­people can get out there too, and do their bit.

“It’s really expensive for soldiers to get diagnosed and then get therapy but the funds raised really help them to get where they need to be.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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