Join us for the first 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.
Today - 20th March 2021, is the Vernal Equinox marking the start of Astronomical spring. With the sun directly over the equator, day & night fall as close as they come to equal, with daylight continuing its growth until the Summer Solstice (Northern Hemisphere).
In March alone in the East (Hopton-on-Sea) daylight will have increased by 1 hour 57 minutes. On the 31st March the sun will rise at 06:29am, and with first light generally 45-60 mins before sunrise, the break of dawn trail runner is now rewarded with a twilight stillness that arguably epitomises the allure of trail running.
Yet, such stillness is fleeting in this unsettled time, March is the month of the winds or Bavalyakero as the Romani have named it as described by Lia Leendertz in this years Romani themed Almanac. A word potentially meaning 'wind time’! The trail and adventure runner holds the same dislike for strong wind as the Romani, it makes everything hard work!
Running amongst our countryside fields the skylark ascends with gusto to become but a dot in the sky, bursting with joyful song understandably making it synonymous with the poet. Yellowhammers, in particular the brighter males shine vividly against the bare trees and grey skies, as do the Goldfinches. Green woodpeckers let out their laughing call although rarely drum, but listen out for the drumming of Great and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. Chaffinches flit around. Most female birds are busy nest building, the Wren have other ideas as it is the male who constructs the home. But not one, several. The male wren will have no issue in playing several females to all have his offspring, keeping them in separate nests, they’ll never know of his adultery.
Hedgerows are coming alive, towpath running becomes a joy. Blackthorn blossom frosting everything white encourages the first bees out of hibernation, alongside the appearance of small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies. I think most runners love to see deer when out running and now can be a good time as Roe and Muntjac are drawn in to graze and browse on fresh tree shoots and leaves.
Bird song is building both at the dawn chorus and at dusk giving the runner two opportunities to enjoy nature's melody if the first is squandered to the duvet. All our loyal birds, blackbird, robin and song thrushes sing as if for the first time. In the bird of prey world I’ve been delighted to see two Red Kites soaring above the trails near Lincoln, along with plentiful Buzzards. Stay attentive as the ‘Harrier’ inspired Hen Harriers arrive back on upland breeding areas from late March, but you’ll have to be lucky to spot one as sadly as with many of the animal species I’ve mentioned here, they are in a ‘Red' UK conservation status.
For those exploring the moors, wetlands and grasslands you may be blessed with the sound of the curlew’s evocative call. Curlews sometimes return to their birthplace so could have been born where you spot them nesting. Like all ground nesting birds they’ll have to hide from the prowling fox hunting for food, perhaps to share with the vixen back at the den feeding cubs with her milk.
A night head torch run may reward you with hedgehogs potentially out for the first time since hibernating, looking for insects amongst vegetation and early flowers, in dire need of sustenance after winter. In summer when I sleep in the garden hedgehogs pass my tent snorting and grunting like old men dozing off, so listen out! Moths fill the air early evening and in hot pursuit of them hungry bats who have been in a state of winter dormancy. Also, listen out for the Tawny Owl and keep eyes peeled in the twilight hours for the ghostly but intensely beautiful barn owl out hunting voles, mice and shrews.
Plodding by ponds and small bodies of water, take a breather to look closer, they may reveal frog spawn or a mass of tadpoles. That’s if they avoid becoming entombed in ice as surface frosts are possible on cold nights in March. Those crisp frosty mornings at sunrise are a runner's delight not so welcomed by the spawn. Or leading to the same demise, watch out for the heron who pulls up alongside the sperm like tadpoles to feast, not even the frogs are safe as a heron will happily eat them too.
Apart from the daffodils two other common flowers during early spring need mentioning if only for their imaginative names, the Bigleaf Periwinkle and Lucile’s glory-of-the-snow. Hazel and Aspen Catkins hang like christmas decorations.The Snow Crocus and Snowdrops have passed their best in most regions by now and similarly we say goodbye to most of the Fieldfare and Redwing which I’ve enjoyed seeing on the winter trails, most head North to Scandinavia.
This month's full moon falls on 28th March, sharing this date with the start of British Summer Time, hence the clock jumps forward one hour at 1am. Known as Wind moon which makes obvious sense, as does Plough Moon as in the days before well lit farming machinery moonlight offered extended light to work into the night. My favourite perhaps is Worm moon to symbolise that earthworms become active after winter which to their misfortune then become food for birds. I’m not naive to the issues of safety for some, but to turn off the head torch and run along the river bank with the full moon dancing on the water is a cherished joy for me.
Here I offer only a snippet of happenings in the early spring during March available to the trail runner. I wish you all such glory and pleasure at this time of year. The easy, recovery run or rest day saunter provides the perfect opportunity to throw on your Harrier pack (mine’s the Kinder 10L) and explore without pressure from the watch. I look forward to seeing what you discover and writing again in April.
You can learn more about Ronnie, his coaching, running, events and online workshops here