AN ANDOVER businessman who took on a gruelling challenge to complete the equivalent of 11 marathons has crossed the finish line to a hero’s welcome.

Andreas Beirne and his 13kg barrel, nicknamed ‘Big Baz’ crossed the finishing line on Sunday in Salisbury city centre to complete The Big Barrel Run, which he started on April 28 at the London Marathon.

The former physical training instructor in the Royal Logistics Corps has raised over £20,000 for Combat Stress — a veteran’s mental health charity.

As he crossed the finishing line, Andreas was greeted by his girlfriend Amy Jenkins, his support crew and other well-wishers.

He said: “I will never forget the moment I came around the corner into the Market Square in Salisbury and saw, and heard, all the people cheering me home including a number from my Bootcamp in Andover. It made all the planning, logistics, training, blisters, sore muscles and kilometres worth it. I don’t mind saying that I even shed a tear or two as I crossed the finish line. It is a memory I will treasure forever.

“Apart from the birth of my daughter, this had been the greatest week of my life and probably the toughest. Words cannot describe the immense gratitude I feel to my support crew and everyone who donated to my challenge.

“It was because of everyone’s belief in me that I made it to the end. I am simply blown away by people’s generosity, I never dreamed we would smash the fundraising target.

“The money will enable Combat Stress to transform the lives of veterans who are in desperate need of their help. From the bottom of my little barrel heart – thank you!”

The challenge began at the London Marathon where Andreas completed 14 miles before joining the other 40,000 runners for the race.

Andreas set himself the challenge of running 456km in memory of the 456 service men and women who lost their lives during Operation Herrick in Afghanistan.

He added: “This week has been a real rollercoaster — There have been some incredible highs and some very low lows. I had some really dark moments, moments where I honestly didn’t think I could go on and that I had pushed my body as far as it could go. But it was then that my support crew stepped in, picked me up, strapped me up and gave me the encouragement and motivation to keep going.”

Over 1,000 supporters donated to Andreas’ efforts, and not only did he thank them, but also the support of Andover business Vernham Labels and Bootcamp UK Andover.