Friday, March 7, 2014

That time we ran with the bulls... In Virginia!?!



 Running with the bulls is that bucket list item that is on every adrenaline junkies list, but very few seem to follow through with it. It normally entails flying to Spain, paying overpriced accommodation rates in Pamplona to be close to the action, and using up a weeks vacation because after you fly all the way down there, you might as well see some of Spain while your at it! Assuming you survive the run...
 As a self proclaimed adrenaline junkie, I admit this was also on my list, but i'm not sure I ever really had any intention of checking it off. That is, until I discovered a brand new event call "The Great Bull Run" that allowed us to run with the bulls right here in the USA. At first, I didn't believe the website was real. I thought for sure there is no way such an event would take place in our country with all the different liabilities and insurance nightmares that would be involved and all the potential for law suits. 

But then, I saw a few news articles discussing the event, and there was already some controversy over it. Some said it was inhumane, and the bulls would be treated poorly. Others said it was a death wish, and actually wished harm upon the future participants. I realized that the organizers had every intention of putting on an event. In fact, they were the same company that put on the Rugged Maniac mud run, a well known 5k obstacle race and one Brian and I personally participated in and enjoyed.

This really happened!
So, Brian and I signed up, along with Larissa from The Traveling Mortician. We were still weary that the event would be cancelled last minute and we would lose our registration fee. For this reason, we procrastinated booking a hotel until a few weeks before the event. By this time, over 12,000 people had signed up and the event was selling out! It was actually going to happen! In addition to the bull run, the registration fee also included an epic tomato fight, meant to simulate the La Tomantina experience in Spain.

There were a few notable differences between the USA and Spain event:

-The bulls horns were dulled in the USA version to reduce the likelihood of getting gored

-In Spain, the bulls run free down the streets of Pamplona for a half mile. The USA version took place on a fenced in quarter mile motorway dirt track.

- The fence had “safe areas” which were small out coves on the track that people could duck into to avoid the bulls.

-Finally, in the USA version, we were to be released at different wave times as to not have 12,000 people running away from the bulls at the same time , to reduce the risk of being trampled.

The track - you can see the out cove on the left
So, in August, the four of us (Larissa's husband Angel came to spectate) made the drive to Virginia the night before the event, and ate our "last supper" at the Texas Roadhouse.. We arrived at the motor sports park on a hot, sunny, Saturday morning, donned in our white bull run attire. After checking out the race festival, which ironically included a mechanical bull, we took seats in the stadium. We were scheduled for the second wave at 11am, and were anxious to witness the first ever wave go off at 10am.
There was no way I was letting the irony of this mechanical bull get past me!
I think the whole stadium was nervous as no one really knew how the bulls would react to being released on the track, or if they would head straight towards the crowd. Everyone lined up against the fence, leaving the middle of the track wide open for the bulls. Finally, it was time! The bulls were released and started to run… except… they stopped! They just didn’t know what to do on the track and sort of just all looked at each other. It was comical! A man came behind them riding a horse to usher them further down the track, and they began running again. A few adventurous people attempted to run right down the middle of the track, ducking to the side as the bulls came. (The bulls run 4 minute miles so it is nearly impossible to outrun them.) Most people ran along the fences and alongside the bulls for a few seconds rather than in front of them.
The first wave
Watching the first run eased our nerves as we concluded the bulls had no real interest in trampling or goring us. We lined up for our wave and received our red bandanas to complete our outfits. We took our places on the track, near the fence and about 5 feet before one of the out coves just in case. The bulls were then released, and our adrenaline rose. With all the people behind us lined up, it was hard to see where the bulls were on the course and when it was time to start running. Tension broke and we all started laughing as the bulls started slower than anticipated. They finally reached us and we ran next to them for about 3 seconds before they sped past us, leaving us sprinting trying to keep up with them. It was over before we knew it. We survived!!!
The finishing touch to our outfits

We exited the track and searched for our free beer, then bought lunch from one of the onsite vendors and watched the other runs while waiting for the tomato fight to start.
Celebrating our survival!
Now, in theory, the tomato fight sounds like a really cool experience. It was advertised as one of the biggest food fights in the world, with thousands of tomatoes. The event had everyone from all waves of the bull run participate in just 1 tomato fight, and had us wear protective goggles. They read us the rules which included smashing the tomatoes before throwing them. Unfortunately, most people didn’t do that either because of the excitement or because the tomatoes were not ripe and still hard! So, it really wasn’t that fun being pelted by hard tomatoes, but rather painful. We lasted only a few minutes before deciding to just cover each other in smashed tomato and then leave the fight to change into clean clothes.
Tomato fight photo, courtesy of Wesley Reaves Photography
Brian wisely chose not to participate. We aren't nearly as covered in tomato as we should be!
We left and later found out that in the very last bull run wave after the tomato fight, someone did in fact get trampled and was hospitalized for a concussion. I guess people got braver as the day went on and tried to run in front of the bulls more.
The best part of the event was this T-shirt, which is great for bragging rights and has started many a conversation with strangers whenever we wear it.
Can you say bragging rights?

Would you ever participate in something like this?

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