The time-honored, and dangerous, tradition of running with the bulls has come to America. The Great Bull Run promises the thrill of running with live bulls but with safety, for the runners and the animals, being the main priority. With the first ever running of the bulls, held in Richmond, Va., on Aug. 24, spectators and participants were treated to what could be a new American tradition.
Virginia Motorsports Park was transformed for an event that was equal parts excitement and danger. The Spanish traditions of the running of the bulls and a Tomato Royale may have found a home in America as thousands of fans showed up for the first ever event. Organizing the Great Bull Run was no easy task and the event's co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, Rob Dickens, spent a year planning the first event.
Virginia was an obvious choice for Dickens, having organized three other events, “Rugged Maniac,” an extreme obstacle course and race, in the state. “We have a great relationship with the venue, we have a great relationship with the state and we know the people in the area love these types of exciting events, it was a no brainer,” said Dickens to the International Business Times.
The biggest hurdle facing the Great Bull Run was, naturally, getting insurance. Dickens said he had to ask about 30 different companies before finding someone willing to insure the event. According to Dickens, “Beyond that, it’s the logistics of running with the bulls, never been done in the U.S. so how do we do it? How do we do it to make it thrilling but not too dangerous where people are dying left and right?”
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As for the running of the bulls itself, safety triumphed over danger. The focus on safety extended beyond the humans, as they were given fences they could easily climb over, but the bulls as well, as the organizers created a dirt track that would not hurt the bulls as they ran. The animals seemed to be well treated and, as Dickens noted, would not be killed after the races.
The Great Bull Run increased the number of races, from a scheduled four races to a run every half hour, but injuries were kept to a minimum. A few falls, minor cuts and bruises but nothing like one would fear could happen, or has happened, in Pamplona. The run is quickly organized as the runners line up along the sides of a quarter-mile track. After the rules were announced and an inspirational credo recited, the race began and it was over just as fast.
The anticipation is the most thrilling part. Watching the first people start to react and run from the bulls is exciting and that wave soon races down the track. Soon, bulls and people converge into one space and that is where the element of danger greatly increases.
Only a few people are ever close enough to be next to a bull at any given moment, so it is less about the animal and more about watching people. Feeling the push of the crowd as they move forward, seeing where the bulls are and how the people are moving further down the track are necessary for the run. In what feels like seconds, the race is over, the bulls far ahead of the runners and all that is left is to walk down the track and outside.
The worst injuries occurred at the end of the day. As the last scheduled race, the organizers allowed everyone that previously ran to participate. Upping the ante, instead of the 12 bulls used in other races, the run featured 24 bulls. With up to 600 people and 24 bulls, space was at a premium. There came a point where some individuals fell and several injuries were reported, including two being treated for concussion-like symptoms and a third being sent to the hospital for more serious injuries.
The other big attraction, aside from running with the bulls, was the Tomato Royale. Thousands of tomatoes were eventually, crushed, hurled, smashed and turned into a soupy puddle in a few minutes. It was obvious who participated in the event, based on sight and smell, and it’s hard to argue with getting dirty and throwing food at strangers for the sake of fun.
The Great Bull Run has created a festive atmosphere, with a live band, mechanical bull, food and games, which gives the run a social aspect that invites a sense of camaraderie. Despite the possible danger, many runners were content to indulge themselves as though it was more of a block party than a running of the bulls. In the future, the organizers could create a livelier setting, adding attractions in addition to the Tomato Royale that adds to the overall value of the event, but Virginia was a promising start for the Great Bull Run.
A video of the Great Bull Run, including an interview with Dickens, can be viewed below.