Have you worked your way through most of the amateur extreme sports but still feel a need for something more? Have you fantasized about running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, but can’t or won’t make the trip? You’re in luck. If you really want to do something extreme and, frankly, dangerous, you will get your chance on August 24 at Richmond’s Virginia Motorsports Park with the Great Bull Run. “This is the real deal,” claim the organizers on a website promoting the event. They offer some cold comfort, too: “It’s not as dangerous as you think. There have been only 15 deaths in the Pamplona running of the bulls in the past 102 years.” If you like those odds, keep reading.
Though organizers say they’ve taken precautions to make the run as safe as possible, they admit it is “an inherently dangerous activity.” They expect participants to have fun, but they make clear that runners “might be trampled, gored, rammed, or tossed in the air by a bull, or bumped, jostled tripped, or trampled by your fellow runners.” Between other runners and 1,000-pound bulls, I think I’d probably choose the former.
The Richmond event will be the first of its kind for the Great Bull Run Company, a Boston-based enterprise launched by two former lawyers, Rob Dickens and Bradford Scudder. We talked by phone with Dickens, who said that so far 5,000 people have signed up for the run, at a cost of $50 per person—and the pool of participants is 70 percent male and 30 percent female, ranging from ages 18 to 45. Was he surprised by the volume of response? “No, not at all,” he says. “We wouldn’t have launched this event if we didn’t think people would want to do it.” He has some advice for participants: Come dressed to run. “It’s not a race, and it’s not a long-distance run, but wear something you can actually run in. No high heels, no loose, flowing clothing.”
The company emphasizes the use of “less-aggressive” bulls than those used in Spain. And there’s more presumably good news: The bulls in Richmond, unlike the bulls in Spain, are not headed to possible death in a bullfight. They are under the care of veterinarians, says the website, and the animals are not hit, shocked, or deprived of food and water. You might even consider them performance bulls, as they will do the same run at similar events in Atlanta and Houston this year and other cities next year. When not doing the runs, the bulls live on a free-range farm near Nashville, Tennessee, says Dickens.
To keep humans safe, there will be extra opportunities for runners to exit the track, either into a nook or over a fence. There will also be professional bull handlers at the event. “But make no mistake: you could get seriously injured in this event,” reminds the website. Truthfully, the same can be said of mountain biking, skydiving, and kayaking Great Falls—but being trampled to death by bulls seems less like sport and more like crazy. “It would be horrible and unfortunate,” says Dickens of the possibility of catastrophic harm to a runner, “but I don’t expect that to happen. I’ve taken lots of safety precautions.”
The “run” is a quarter mile. Two dozen bulls will be released in three waves of eight along a track, and run about 15 miles per hour—faster than most humans can run. Spectators can line the track to watch for a $10 fee. The Great Bull Run website advises “you arrange yourself somewhere on the quarter-mile track and wait for the bulls to come to you,” then run with them as long as you can. There are even tips for where to position yourself depending on how daring you are: Those who “desire the most danger” should stay in the middle of track and try to dodge the bulls, and those who want only “some danger” should run along the outer edges of the track and let the bulls pass at a safe distance.
Dickens himself will be running, too, “probably in the last run of the day, at 1 PM.” The daylong event will also feature a group food fight called Tomato Royale, live music, food, and games, and will take place rain or shine.