A scene from the running of the bulls at the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain. (Photo courtesy The Great Bull Run, LLC)

The Great Bull Run will bring a Spanish tradition to the United States, creating the opportunity for Americans to, literally, take the bull by the horns. There is a reason that it has taken bull running so long to come to the U.S. With bulls weighing more than 1,000 pounds— not to mention having impressive horns — there are inherent physical dangers involved in unleashing the massive beasts onto crowds of fleeing participants. Since the Running of the Bulls began in Pamplona, Spain, in 1922, 16 people have died participating in the event — typically from trampling or being gored to death.

The Great Bull Run’s COO Rob Dickens said that the company has taken steps to assure both the 10 participating venues and the runners that this is the safest way to get your Pamplona-style adrenaline fix.

“The main things that we’re concerned about are the safety of the runners and the safety of the bulls,” said Dickens.

With respect to the runners, the quarter-mile course is being designed with nooks that runners can jump into if a bull is hot on their tails. Also, instead of being trapped in the street with no convenient escape, the courses in the U.S. will be constructed with cattle fencing, which people can scale to leave the course.

The Great Bull Run is partnering with a national rodeo company to provide the 24 bulls used in the races, with one set of bulls traveling from the East Coast to the Midwest, and a different set of bulls running in the Western races.

“We’re not using bulls with razor sharp horns, unlike in Spain where they use Spanish fighting bulls whose horns have been sharpened to make it easier for them to gore,” said Dickens. “Rodeo bulls are bigger than Spanish fighting bulls, but not as aggressive.”

“Rodeo bulls might run you over, but they’re not going to try to get you in a corner and gore you,” he added.

The rodeo company, which Dickens declined to disclose due to potential action from animal rights activists, will be responsible for providing the animals, as well as their training and handling.

With respect to the safety of the bulls, The Great Bull Run is only being held on dirt and grass courses, not streets where the animals risk injury or broken bones should they slip. Also, the courses are being designed as straightaways or gentle ovals that the bulls can easily navigate.

“The bulls have been raised, bred and trained as rodeo bulls,” said Dickens. “They’re highly valuable animals, and the last thing we want is for any of them to get hurt.”

There is a veterinarian at the bulls’ ranch who monitors the animals, and The Great Bull Run will partner with a local veterinarian for each event, since they need to be licensed in a particular state in order to practice.

The tomato fight at the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, which will be replicated at The Great Bull Run events in the U.S. (Photo courtesy The Great Bull Run, LLC)

So far, 10 dates have been announced, with plans for expansion. The plan is to have the event annually at each of the 10 locations, which span raceways and motorsports parks across the country. Two states, Texas and California, will have two Great Bull Run events, and the series kicks off at Virginia Motorsports Park in Petersburg, Aug. 24.

“When Rob called me up and said they wanted to try this event, and that they wanted our facility to be the first in America to host it, I was all for it,” said Bryan Pearce, GM at Virginia Motorsports Park. Dickens is also the COO of Rugged Maniac, a 5k obstacle race that currently tours 20 cities each year. Three of the venues for The Great Bull Run have also been used for Rugged Maniac events in the past.

“I already had a working relationship with them and was familiar with them, which was the biggest hurdle to cross,” said Pearce. “I knew they’d follow through on their commitments and promises because they’ve always been very thorough with the execution of Rugged Maniac.”

Dickens said that it was easy to convince venues he had already partnered with to host The Great Bull Run; however, he only had preexisting relationships with three of the facilities. Dickens called the other seven venues a “very hard sell,” but eventually structured straight rental agreements with each of them.

Though The Great Bull Run has made the event as safe as possible, people will still be running next to — or dodging — giant, half-ton animals. That is where Dickens’ background as a lawyer comes in, along with a well-crafted waiver that participants will sign before the run.

“For any dangerous activity, as long as people understand what the risks are before they engage in it and they accept all those risks, then there can be no legal liability for the organizers,” he said. “The risks here are clearly being trampled by a bull or by people, or being gored by a bull, which is what the waiver details.”

He said tickets for all of the events are selling quickly, with the Virginia event nearly sold-out as far as participants in the bull run. There are three runs throughout the day, capped at 1,500 runners each. According to The Great Bull Run website, the first two times for the Aug. 24 date are 95-percent full, with the final 1p.m. run at 80-percent capacity.

“I think the program is great for the adrenaline sports person that wants a unique and different experience, and it has very strong legs to repeat year over year,” said Pearce.

Tickets to participate range from $35-$65 depending on how early people buy. Dickens expects the Virginia event to have about 4,500 runners and another 3,000 spectators and participants in the Tomato Royale.

This isn’t just a track with a few bull runs. The entire event includes a festival with bands, games, food and beer. Concessions, as well as partnerships with any food trucks brought in, are arranged by the individual venues. For those who want to participate in something, but not necessarily run with the bulls, there is a tomato food fight called Tomato Royale.

After the initial event in Virginia, Aug. 24, The Great Bull Run will move across the country through July 12, ending at Hawthorne Race Course in Chicago.

Interviewed for this story: Rob Dickens, rob@thegreatbullrun.com; Bryan Pearce, (804) 216-3172