- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2013

You could shell out thousands of dollars for a flight to Spain and a hotel room in the historic city of Pamplona, fight your way through the maze of mid-July crowds and wait hours to sprint along the cobblestones for mere seconds of pounding adrenaline as 12 bulls gallop alongside you.

Or you could make the short trip to Petersburg, Va., this summer and take a chance in the inaugural Great Bull Run — the brainchild of a Boston entrepreneur who plans to replicate the thrilling and dangerous running of the bulls in Virginia as the first stop in a series of events in cities across the country.

But don’t worry. In the 103 years on record at the Spanish San Fermin festival that made the bull run famous, only 15 people have died. Hundreds, though, are injured every year — mostly cuts and bruises from falls.

“We certainly don’t hope for any injuries, but we do expect injuries to occur,” said Rob Dickens, the mind behind the Great Bull Run. “Until recently, all we had were marathons, 5ks, triathlons. You can run down the street anytime. People want more than that. They’re doing things that involve more contact with the environment.”


A 1,500-pound animal running next to you is about as close to your surroundings as you can get, which is one reason why the century-old tradition consistently entices thousands of participants each year.

The running of the bulls is a focal point of the weeklong festival in Pamplona, which celebrates one of the city’s patron saints. Twelve bulls are unleashed each day from July 7 to 14. Runners cram themselves into the narrow stone streets of the city, while spectators pack small balconies overhead.

“The course is generally bound by buildings, and the runners really have nowhere to go,” Mr. Dickens said. “We’re building slat fencing and nooks along the way to duck in to let the bulls pass by.”

Mr. Dickens helped start Rugged Races, a Boston-based company that specializes in the obstacle racing that has become popular across the country.

“Through that experience, I started to think about what other types of events we could do,” he said. “It just so happened a friend of mine invited me to go run with the bulls. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but finding people in the U.S. to go with it, it really was impossible.”

Mr. Dickens said about 1,000 people have signed up so far for the Virginia race in August. Participants pay a registration fee of $55, and spectators pay $10. All participants are required to sign a waiver of liability.

In coming months, he plans to hold similar races in cities including Dallas, Chicago, Houston and Atlanta.

To ensure runners get the most risk for their money, the bull run at Virginia Motorsports Park has been split into eight hourly runs. Each run has two waves of six bulls that will be released about 15 seconds apart.

The bulls for the Virginia race will come from a ranch in Kentucky. About 60 were ordered, Mr. Dickens said, so that the animals aren’t running all day.

Unlike the fighting bulls released in Spain with their horns sharpened, the bulls selected for the runs will have blunted horns.

“They’ve been blunted but not chopped off,” Mr. Dickens said.

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