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The bulls in Spain meet a gruesome death at the hands of matadors. No bullfighting is planned in Petersburg, though. Instead, runners and spectators can join a giant tomato fight like the popular La Tomatina festival each August near Valencia, Spain, about five hours from Pamplona.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has sent a letter to the owner of the Little Everglades Ranch in Florida, where a bull run is scheduled for February, asking her to cancel the event because while “the human participants are warned of the very real danger, the bulls are not able to opt out.”

Voluntarily acting as a moving target for a 1,500-pound horned animal might be dangerous, but Cindy Ackrill, a physician and board member for the American Institute of Stress, said that need for adrenaline is common.

“It’s human nature that we keep pushing limits,” she said. “There’s an excitement to seeing what our full potential is.”

Setting a dozen bulls loose in a crowd of people is high on a scale of excitement, and it’s not without risks. Mr. Dickens did not elaborate on the insurance policy required for the race.

Rick Lindsey, president of the Utah-based Prime Insurance Co., said a policy for a year’s worth of the type of rugged obstacle races that have become popular might cost from $15,000 to $20,000, while rodeo insurance might run from $10,000 to $20,000 for an annual contract.

“It depends on what events they have, how they construct the course, and what types of safety measures are in place,” Mr. Lindsey said. “The biggest factor is how many participants, but it’s all basic common sense and good, fundamental business practices.”

Although the Great Bull Run might be the first of its kind for Virginia, adrenaline junkies out West have been running with bulls for the past 15 years.

Phil Immordino got the idea for the Running of the Bulls USA in 1997 while helping to promote a rodeo tour in Southern California.

“I suggested we let the bulls go in the street and then thought, well let’s put up fencing and let the bulls run down the street,” Mr. Immordino said. “Just the fact we were thinking about it got us on the front page of the news. It was so unique and different.”

The race was a success, and aside from a few venue changes and a hiatus after Sept. 11, 2001, the run has been going strong. In the past two years, it has been held in Cave Creek, Ariz.

“In 2012, I found the biggest, baddest, meanest, ugliest bulls. They sent three people to the hospital,” he said. “But we’ve never had anybody sue us. Runners sign an in-depth waiver. They know what they’re getting into.”

Similar to what Mr. Dickens is planning, the Running of the Bulls USA has escape routes throughout the fencing, as well as on-site emergency personnel. Professional bull handlers run with the crowd to help any runners who are stuck in a jam or end up facing off against a bull.

“About 80 percent of the runners are locals and about 20 percent are people from around the country,” Mr. Immordino said. “It’s adrenaline junkies, people looking for a thrill, people who want something to do, people who can’t afford to go to Spain. It’s a full range of kids right out of college and guys going through midlife crises.”

Dr. Ackrill said the popularity of these races stems from the desire to experience what she called the “rush of being alive.”

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