Join us for the second of 3 blog posts celebrating spring for the trail runner.
Ronnie Staton is an ultra runner, coach and Hobo Pace race director. You can see more from Ronnie here.
You can also book onto his April online seminar - The Positive Runner, here.
Easter weekend came and went before April had a chance to settle this year, perhaps explaining why some in the UK woke to a frosty Easter Sunday. The date of the last frost until winter beckons once again is anyone's guess and is very dependent on location. Yet the majority of the UK are frost free by the end of April with highland areas of Scotland the exception (June!).
Daylight continues to stretch out increasing by another whopping 1 hour 54 mins in the East (Hopton-on-Sea) by the month's end, making that a combined increase of 3 hours 51 mins since the beginning of March! Those out of necessity, choice or the more enthusiastic among us who run twice a day can now venture out to run in the evening and enjoy a sunset instead of darkness (latest on 30th in West 20:39). The extreme sleep detesting early runner can also leave their head torch hanging with the winter coats as the light will be enough from approx 5am for many by the end of the month (weather/location dependent).
The dawn chorus is gathering in momentum producing a cacophony of song particularly in our pockets of woodlands. Ornithologists report it reaches its best by the end of April maintaining a high until June time. Sure, you have to be early to get a seat with the performance beginning from about 4am, but you know it will be worth it and not just for the bird song.
April is the month that the bluebell carpets our forest floors creating a sea of purple. Bluebells are indicative of ancient woodland dating back potentially as far as 1600 years, a joy just to run on by! If you don’t live running distance to a wood hosting such a natural spectacle, be a friend to yourself and go grab your diary to plan a woodland excursion, right now! I’m under no illusion it is this splendour that sells out the Dukeries 30/40 each year in which I host with HOBO Pace, rather than my race director skills.
Equalling the beauty of the bluebell are the many additional wild flowers that begin to take a hold. The cuckoo pint is an unmistakable flowering plant that now springs to life as does the entirely different looking delicate pale pink cuckoo flowers. Celandines, cowslips and campion crop up everywhere and the cherry blossom takes center stage from the fleeting beauty of the magnolia trees. Catkins hang in full glory from alders, hazel, silver birch and willow. Such an abundance of wildflowers and blossoms attracts a range of butterflies, including green-veined whites, speckled wood, orange tip amongst others to join the peacock and small tortoiseshell mentioned last month.
Ground temperatures warm to a more constant 6 degrees Centigrade and above enabling grass to grow and this combined with tree buds now bursting open, everything suddenly and rapidly becomes much greener. Great news for our garden hedgehogs just out of hibernation which have returned to take the food I’ve been putting out at dusk. I’m yet to run with someone in the spring that didn’t appreciate stumbling across a forest floor covered in wild garlic and the unmistakable scent they kick out! Now is a great time to slip on your trail shoes and clip out the miles to the forest to experience such a delight. The great news is, if you find bluebells, you’ll normally find wild garlic close by.
Despite April being one of our drier months, don’t forget to stash the waterproof in your pack as you explore spring trails, April showers will surely feature! Warm sunny mornings, surreptitious and rapidly forming cumulonimbus clouds take shape then fall in a downpour to reveal bright and vivid blue skies again! But never fear a good soaking, afterwards the air contains a fresh life affirming aroma which more than makes up for being damp.
I excitedly anticipate hearing the cuckoo for the first time this year as they return to summer with us after a stop off in Europe. Having wintering in Africa it’s back to con our lovable meadow pipit (among others) into rearing its young! Late April last year I followed in a woodland a cuckoo's call with joyful purpose zig zagging for a good 30 minutes until I eventually caught a worthwhile sighting. Many rural dwellers still class the arrival and sounding of the cuckoo as the unofficial beginning of spring, makes sense.
Earth Day is 22nd April, why not look to celebrate with a long trail run? Personally, I’m plotting a two day fastpacking trip to bivvi under the stars as serendipity would have it that the dawn of the 22nd April is also the peak of the Lyrids meteor shower! Potentially hitting 18 per hour, some with spectacular ionised gas trails that burn brightly for a few seconds as they streak across the sky. Of course you have to gamble on a clear sky when pre-planning an adventure to remote areas to take in the stars, but if you fall lucky it’s an effort that is paid back tenfold.
The full moon falls on the 27th so night running on and around this date is always special when you escape to the uninhabited hills and open fields, the moonlight revealing your next steps into the peace of the darkness. You may even see badger cubs exploring around the sett for the first time. Planning big goals for the summer? Then incidently, if your mind is open to influence from astrologers the new moon (12th April) falls in Aries - an active and courageous sign, making it a good time to plan creative and fun goals! Perfect timing for those attending ‘The Positive Runner’ webinar with myself on that date as I do specifically talk about how to set congruent goals!
I’m very conscious I’d better wrap this up with brevity only mentioning the weasel and stoats by the waterways, and perhaps not coincidentally as bank voles multiply you’ll see more kestrels, sparrowhawks and buzzards hunting in the fields too! The swifts, house martins and swallows all return this month too. I’ve with pleasure hindered my average pace stopping to watch these spectacular birds sweep up insects at insanely high speeds just inches above the wheat fields! Oh, and look out for the willow warbler and it’s lookalike the chiffchaff, and I strongly recommend ears remain unencumbered with headphones to listen to the songs of the mistle and song thrush, the blackcap and if you’re really blessed the nightingale!
As a runner, coach and race director like most I’m happy to see the return of events. Similarly, I’m keen to go further afield now restrictions allow. That said I don’t think I’m alone in bonding more deeply with the nature on our doorstep and I’ll be staying local much more than I ever would have, with so much to see and witness the changes. I look forward to writing in May with part three to conclude these spring blogs.