There's only one thing I'm concentrating on as darkness begins to envelop the Coniston Fells. 'Don't miss that cairn. Hit that small cairn at the path junction, take the middle path and it's plain sailing. From there, the faint trod soon gets better and before you know it, you're on a good track descending to the old miners road and then it's easy running to the finish. But where's that cairn?'
I know there's a runner on my heels. How far behind is he? I can't afford to go wrong now, less than 2 miles from the end. I stop, check my map, run a bit further - and then there it is - more a loose pile of stones than a cairn. I've cracked it! My energy levels rebound. I tuck the map and road book into my shorts and I'm off.
After a painful descent from the Fell top, I'm soon on the miners road. I check my watch. 9 hours 19 minutes. I can't stop grinning. Under 12 hours and top 50 I'd have been happy with. But under 9.30 and top 5 - it doesn't seem real. I remember Mark Hartell's time from last year - 9 hours 41 mins - Mark Hartell, Lakeland peaks record holder, 77 summits in 24 hours, mountain running legend. Granted, he's a few years past his best now, but I'm going to beat Mark Hartell's time - me, a jogger from Lincolnshire!
A couple of minutes later, I emerge onto the main road through Coniston and turn right towards the bridge. The entire beer garden in front of the Black Bull pub claps and cheers. I'm getting emotional. Turning down Lakes Road towards the finish line, I can make out Tam taking photos. Archie and Ellie run towards me. Archie's quiet but Ellie's yelling, 'Well done my daddy!'
I'm so happy, chuffed with myself. I cross the line and a female marshal links her arm into mine and leads me into the school. Through the reception into the cafeteria area - more clapping and cheering, and into the main hall, everyone on their feet. What a great feeling. I'm pushed in the direction of the dibber where I dib my tag and receive my official result. 9 hours 25 minutes. 4th position.
A guy grabs my arm and makes me stand on the scales for the compulsory weigh-in. He checks my wrist tag for my start weight and shouts over to the race doctor, '4.5 kilos down!' The doctor tells me to get as much fluid in me as I can. 'I'm ok,' I tell him, 'I feel great!' I give Tam and the superheroes a big hug, grab a styrofoam cup of flat coke and then the nausea hits me and I can't stand up.
Low blood pressure, I'm told. I'm escorted to a thick crash mat, where I lie for the next hour with my feet on a plastic chair. The sickness soon subsides and feeling like I'm lying on a king-sized bed in the most luxurious hotel suite, I close my eyes and think back over the day:
- Joss Naylor, the greatest fell runner ever, getting all of us 460 Lakeland 50 competitors started at midday
- 7 minute miles round the first 4 mile loop at Dalemain before our journey started in earnest
- 4 of us coming off High Kop too early at 15 miles, and having to bushwhack for an eternity through chest-high bracken
- the savage climbs out of Fusedale, Mardale Head and Kentmere
- the unrelenting heat, no escape all day
- the encouragement from the 100 mile competitors I passed during the day
- the smiling faces at the six checkpoints, flat coke and jelly beans
- arriving at Ambleside with 16 miles left to be greeted by Tam yelling, 'Get a wiggle on - 4th's only 3 minutes in front!'
- catching the guy in front with 10 miles to go but running scared for the rest of the way
- passing my BG Pal, Mark R., 5 miles from the end of his 100 mile race and promising him a pint at Coniston
- running straight through the last checkpoint, determined to hold my position
- and thinking, right now, that lying down never felt so good.
A great, great day.
Eventually, I have to get up. Mark R. enters the hall to applause - 29 hours and a bit - top 20 in the 100. I give him a few minutes to sort himself out. A bit later, I go over and congratulate him.
'Ok?' I ask.
'Been better. Been worse, ' he replies. I remind him that it was him mentioning the Lakeland 50 and 100 on a Bob Graham last year that set the seed in my mind.
He looks at me with a smile on his face and a glint in his eye. 'Well, we've done it Chris, ' he says, 'What's next?'