TORONTO — Among all the slimy, creepy, goofy, stomach-turning and ridiculous tasks Michael Miller has been asked to do as part of the City Chase Toronto races, the slimiest, creepiest, goofiest and most ridiculous was having a tarantula creep around his stomach for a full 60 seconds.
Miller has no fear of spiders per se. Regular, garden variety wolf spiders, for instance, pose no problem.
It’s the big hairy ones that are somewhat problematic. And even if they weren’t, who’d want a giant hairy spider traipsing around their stomach anyway?
Well, if winning the annual City Chase race is your goal, you put aside your fears, swallow your pride and push yourself to the outermost limits of what you’re able to endure.
Miller did just that during the 2008 Toronto race in allowing the tarantula to dance a waltz on his belly, but it was well worth it. Along with his partner, Brian Greenwood, he is an intensely competitive individual who loves to win, no matter what the challenge.
And win they have. Miller and Greenwood, who go by the nickname “Two Live Jews,” are this year’s Toronto #1 Scion City Chase champions, beating 600 other teams. Competing together for 10 years, they’ve also won the 2008 Ottawa championship, the 2012 and 2013 Toronto events and on the weekend, they competed in the Scion City Chase national championships in London, Ont.
Going into the event, they acknowledge they were long shots to come out on top – the winners of the Halifax City Chase are “super-runners” who have represented Canada internationally.
Still, they pledged to give it their best shot and rely on smarts to go along with speed to get the job done.
On the Toronto Scion City Chase website, Miller and Greenwood are described as “wily old veterans.” Aged 40 and 43 respectively, they are substantially older than the mostly 20-somethings they regularly compete against – and beat.
They keep themselves in good shape by playing a variety of sports, so they’re able to cover ground quickly between clue sites. More than that, they allocate their time wisely – hence the descriptor “wily.”
To understand how that plays a part in a race, first you need to understand what a City Chase is.
Billed as an “urban adventure race,” it sees competitors embark on a sort of scavenger hunt while deciphering cryptic clues. The clues direct them to locations, called ChasePoints, where there are tasks that must be completed. The first team to complete 10 tasks wins.
In this year’s race, held in June, a clue directed participants to a “park [that] shares its name with the Danaus plexippus.”
Likely not many competitors are familiar with the scientific name of butterfly species, and that’s when a cellphone comes in handy. City Chase rules are liberal. You can walk, run or take public transportation to get from ChasePoint to ChasePoint, and you can call a friend for help in deciphering a clue. In their case, Miller and Greenwood rely on Neil Lipman, Miller’s brother-in-law, who’s “on call at home for us,” Miller said.
“He’ll find an address and give advice on the best way to get there,” he added, in the case above, to Monarch Park.
That can save a lot of time, which in the end, is the name of the game.
Two Live Jews begin by examining all the clues, figuring out their locations, and plotting a route that will cut the time spent travelling to a minimum.
“Our strength is probably our strategy,” said Miller.
When they do arrive at a ChasePoint, they’re faced with unusual tasks.
At Yuk Yuks, they were asked to create a sketch and make the judges laugh.
Another task might mean learning a synchronized swim routine, completing a jigsaw puzzle (but running up and down a hill to do so), putting a snake around your neck, holding a baby alligator (its jaws were tied shut), fish in a pool or, as an alternative and to save time, eat a live earthworm.
So what motivates Two Live Jews?
“We just like that we’re pushing back a little bit against father time. We compete with those kids and beat them,” Greenwood said.
Despite the stresses the competition can put on a team, “we get along great,” he added. “We’re both highly competitive. We both want to win.”
So what was Greenwood’s most difficult task? Wearing a snake, holding an alligator?
It was a simple golf shot, a 40-yard pitch to a target. Miller, a golfer, quickly completed his part of the task. It took Greenwood “15 to 20 shots, easy” before he did his. Trouble was, his partner had to retrieve the ball each time, making him run over and over again.
It wasn’t particularly slimy or goofy, but stressful nevertheless – and followed, said Miller, with “laughter when he finally completed it.”