26 May 2013

Jet spotter of the track (racing cars)

What sort of running blog is this, when I have no running to write about? I have spent two days working on the vegetable patch and the cars, which leaves no time for running but plenty of scope for commenting on cars. And I also took time to watch the highlights of the Monaco Grand Prix, giving me an excuse to embed a piece by John Otway. A dominant performance in the race, but not a patch on '72. There will never be a race like that again.

Imminent annual tests forced me to give the cars my undivided attention. First, the MGF: the RAC patrolman who recently solved its little no-starting problem observed that the engine oil was past its best, which I had suspected for a while. Obviously it had not been changed for a long time before we bought it. That bodes ill for its emissions levels, so oil, oil filter and air filter would have to be changed - I haven't looked at the plugs yet, and perhaps I should - and something would have to be done about the handbrake. Plus, the driver's side door mirror was cracked when we bought the car and that is a test fail.

The Renault also displays signs of exhausted engine oil - a very noisy tickover from cold, until the oil gets round the system. So an oil change (and a new filter) was indicated there too, plus an air filter. All pretty simple, no?

No, not really. Neither car has enough ground clearance to accommodate the special receptacle that I have used for about 35 years to catch the old oil, which replaced a gallon oil can with an aperture cut out of it. Which in turn was a solution that replaced positioning the car over a convenient storm drain grate - but that was never an approach that I adopted. So I had to jack them, both of them, and - would you believe it - I could find my trolley jack but not its handle, so I raised the cars on the scissors jacks from their toolkits. And got my work done quickly rather than bother with axle stands - although tomorrow, when I have to remove wheels, it will another story.

The sump plug on the MG is conveniently located on the front side of the sump, close to the offside rear wheel, and takes a 15mm socket (and, in my case, a sharp tap with a heavy hammer to turn said socket). The filter is just over from it, towards the centre of the car. A doddle. The Renault's, by contrast, is masked by a large plastic undertray which miraculously is provided with a hole under the sump plug. Socket? No, it requires an 8mm square drive thingie, which fortunately I have in my toolbox (bought to do this job on a Fiat Panda in the mid-80s). A Sykes Pickavant thingie, at that. But how to offer that up to a plug you can't see, when it won't fit in a socket? Hold the other square end in an adjustable spanner, seems to be the answer. Loosen the plug, and be prepared for a deluge way beyond the capacity of the receptacle to swallow it. Result: black, grotty, used oil on the drive.

Renault thoughtfully place the oil filter in plain sight just inside the bonnet, so no problems there. Except that unscrewing it causes a trickle of old oil to escape - of course, fully expected - with nowhere to go. There is no hole in the undertray corresponding to the filter. Fail.

As for the air filters, don't get me started. The MG shows signs of having been built around this component. It cannot be removed by entering through the aperture in the boot which gives access to coolant and oil fillers - it is possible to undo the clips from here but not to separate the box and remove the filter. The engine cover has to come off - unfasten the hood from the back of the cockpit, remove carpet and soundproofing, then unscrew ten or so 10mm bolts (two missing on my example, which might explain why the engine is loud) and take off the metal cover. This is also necessary, incidentally, to get to the oil filler cap (the satellite filler reached through the boot being incapable of taking on 4.5 litres at any reasonable rate). Then the air filter can be wrangled out and a new one put in. The new one is nice and white and clean: the old on black, confirming the wisdom of carrying out this operation before emissions are tested.

Renault's air filter looks, superficially, much more accessible. The owner's manual says unclip the trunking that funnels in the air, then unfasten two screws at the back. Removing the trunking allows a substantial plastic box to be removed - but I celebrated too soon, as this is merely an expansion box and the filter casing is held in place by those two screws, which are in fact under the scuttle so not exactly easy to get to. Worse, because this is a Renault they are not screws in the conventional sense, with a slot or cross head to get a driver onto: they are star drive affairs, referred to generically by ISO 10664 as "hexalobular internal" but commonly called Torx which is of course a proprietary name and should not be used generically, and they require a bit that fits into a socket - but one has to attack them across the width of the car, not from the front, so it's not easy to keep the bit engaged with the screw. Madness. Alternatively, a hexalobular internal screwdriver will do the job - but the one I have at my disposal, from a recently-scrapped Renault's toolkit, is mysteriously bent and the points of the star are chewed up. Cue much cursing, aimed largely at French car designers (reminding me of when I called the RAC out to my Citroen Dyane because it was making an unnerving noise: "I can tell you what's wrong with that", said the patrolman at a glance, from a distance of about 20 yards. "What's that?" said I, highly impressed. "It's a Citroen" he replied.)

Both cars run much more happily with new oil and filters, and the feeling of satisfaction is reward in itself. Mechanic's high, perhaps. Now for the brake pads.

21 May 2013

Downhill from here

It suits me much better to join Compton Harriers for a Tuesday evening run at 6 o'clock than to traipse into Abingdon for 7, like I have been doing on and off for years: and if the club wants to change its name (as it has) and drop the "Amblers" part, it's taking itself too seriously for my taste. So, for the second time, I have been out running with Compton. This week it wasn't on the roads round the Harwell site, it was up and down the hills at Streatley - and I feel good for it.

We gathered - all five of us! - at the car park where I marshalled the Downland Challenge in April, and set off through woods to view bluebells (which were very nice). Then it was downhill to Streatley, negotiating a slope at which I would have balked on skis, along the road a short way and back up the hill. The climb was such that flights of stairs had been constructed along mush of the path, and there were benches ever 50 yards or so on which I took breaks. Every bench. It was hard work, but it's what I wanted, and what I need - and I can set a target, to run up it in a few weeks without stopping.

The going was rough in places, as I expected, and I wore Breathos with that in mind. I put my left foot down on unforgiving and awkward stones or roots three or four times - twice with consecutive paces - and caused some twinges in the foot which I injured in January: but so far, no problems. A great workout.

16 May 2013

Songs of distant earth

Last night was already late after a meeting in London relegated me to the 1045 train. I arrived at Didcot, already in a bad mood because of the dreadful contract I had been reviewing during the journey, got into the car and turned the key ...

Nothing. The lights on the instrument panel went out, and the car stood there in silence and darkness. The battery is  new, I did not leave the lights on, there was no door ajar to cause the interior light to remain on all day. I opened the boot and then the bonnet (the release lever for the latter being in the former, for some reason known only to MG designers) and wiggled the battery leads about a bit. Instrument panel warning lights appeared, but when I tried to crank it there was nothing. I set the horns off a couple of times wiggling those battery leads, and tried several more times to get it to turn over, but eventually admitted defeat. I walked back to the station, in search of the first of a phone box to call the RAC (my Blackberry smartphone having died earlier) or a Pryor's taxi. Basil Pryor beat British Telecom.

This morning I set off to run into Didcot to get the RAC to sort out the problem. I thought I might speed the process by calling them en route, but the operator to whom I spoke thwarted that idea by asking for the registration number. I could give her the letters, but she was not satisfied when I told there were three digits between the first letter and the final three. So I ran on, and called when I reached the car.

The second operator, male, asked me the type of car. "MGF". "What model?" Good grief. "Petrol or diesel?" I explained patiently about the extreme rarity of diesel MGFs. "I don't know much about cars" giggled my interlocutor. Evidently. I refrained, with no little difficulty, from suggesting that the RAC might not be the right employer for him.

The patrolman was with me very quickly, and soon diagnosed a faulty contact at the end of the earth cable (not before he had tried the classic fix for any starter motor problem, a few whacks with a blunt instrument). Emery paper was applied and the lead refastened, and the car started on the first turn of the key. It might be my imagination, but it seems even to run better now.

4.11 miles on my GPS watch, which didn't find a satellite until I had already run half a mile or so, but the Garmin distance is the one to add to my cumulative total. Still way off track for 1,000 miles this year, but heading in the right direction. And a beautiful morning for a run. Pace not bad either: I used Vivobarefoot Evos rather than Breathos - but the first third of the route is on farm tracks, which were a bit rocky and might have been more comfortable if I had used the trail shoe.

14 May 2013

Run awhile

A coincidence of two small matters that reminds me of - what? Well, something important. Something that it's important to keep in mind.

Last night, at Nettlebed folk club, during an excellent evening with Fairport Convention in which we were treated to performances of Farewell, farewell, Who knows where the time goes, Mattie Groves, and of course Meet on the ledge, I also hear one of my all-time favourite Fairport songs, Walk awhile. Not because of the tune, although it's a great song for singing along, but for the sentiment. "The more we walk together, the better we'll agree". If only Richard Thompson or Dave Swarbrick had been runners - I mean at the time, not to suggest that they are no more, though Swarb has famously had the rare experience of reading his obituary in the papers - I think Run awhile would have been even better. But back in 1970 I would not have appreciated it ...

Then, this morning, my daily inspirational email from Runner's World:
Running is not, as it so often seems, only about what you did in your last race or about how many miles you ran last week. It is, in a much more important way, about community, about appreciating all the miles run by other runners, too. (Richard O'Brien)
I believe that's Richard O'Brien the actor and writer - and, obviously, and more importantly, runner. And clearly all-round good man. I have seen that one before, perhaps even shared it with readers of this blog, but it bears repeating. Shared it ... actually not an expression I find very comfortable: too American for my taste, as I grow to resent the intrusions into our language of more and more of theirs. But perhaps not inappropriate, because sharing is what it is all about. Appreciating all those other runners' miles, too. I never disparage what another runner achieves. At least, not knowingly.

12 May 2013

Overall, a Perfect Day at #writethisrun

I won't get many chances to run with an Olympic Marathoner: in fact, I would not be surprised if today turns out to be a unique occasion. I don't mean simply in the same race, which I have already done (when he beat me, as did several thousand others) but at Scott Overall's shoulder, having a conversation if his conversational pace were not my tempo pace. Eventually I dropped back with slippery huaraches from the wet grass. Great excuse.

Write This Run was an event for running bloggers, of whom there were about 100 in attendance. First interesting observation: about 90 per cent were female. Do men not have the time, or the need, or the aptitude, to blog their running activities? Or is it just a disinclination to spend their Sunday at a conference (with a grand prix and some football on the TV to deter them)? Or were they out running? There were plenty out pounding the pavements around Hampton Court as I drove to the venue.

Laura and Liz did a great job putting together a programme, although to my mind they tried to cram in too many speakers, so time slots were short and a 10 am start on a Sunday was a bit early. Several speakers didn't seem particularly comfortable presenting to an audience of such a size, although they were all at their ease with a roomful of runners. I will write more another time, but while it was nearly all interesting stuff I would have liked to hear more about blogging - though the tips I picked up about running were valuable, and the inspirational stories of some of the speakers were, well, thoroughly inspirational. A day well spent, even without the group run at the end!