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Great Bull Run stampedes through Atlanta racetrack

Eli Mansbach

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Best friends Stephanie Dunnigan and Rebecca Shirley made it their goal to take part in 13 “crazy” races during 2013. So far they have participated in 10 races, including the  Color Run, The Polar Bear Run and The Peachtree Road Race. On Oct. 19, they crossed off No. 11.

The 2013 Great Bull Run had its second stop in Atlanta at the Georgia International Horse Park and attracted around 3,200 runners and close to 2,800 spectators from all across the Southeast. This was the first year of the tour, which started in August in Virginia.

An age-old tradition in Spain, the running of the bulls did not initially start out as an extreme sport giving men a chance to test their bravery and endurance but rather as a method of transporting bulls from one pen to the bullfighting arena. The most famous of these runs occurs annually  in Pamplona, Spain.

The founders of the The Great Bull Run, COO Rob Dickens and CEO Brad Scudder, said they wanted to give people in the United States a chance to run with the bulls without having to make the trip to Pamplona.

“It’s very difficult for most people in North America to find the time and money to make the trip to Pamplona to run with the bulls,” Dickens wrote. “ In fact, it costs about $3,000 per person for airfare, hotels, trains, etc. not to mention you need at least a week off of work.  For most people it’s simply impossible.  That’s why we’ve decided to bring it here to the U.S.”

The modified running of the bulls on Oct. 19 in Atlanta featured five heats with 18, 1,200-pound bulls running down the quarter-mile track at 30 miles per hour. The runners were asked to sign liability waivers in order to run and to wear white clothes with red accents in honor of the runners who participate in Spain. Despite that request, many of the participants dressed up in costumes, wearing Superman outfits and bulls horns. Some even painted taunting words and targets on their backs.

Like many of the runners, Chad Cown, Athens, came to the arena in search of a thrill and to test his courage.

“When [the bulls] came around that first bend and you could finally see them coming through everybody, you get a huge adrenaline rush,” Cown said. “I got right up alongside them and grabbed one by the horn and the thing shook it’s head and threw me off it. It was terrifying, wonderfully terrifying.”

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Runners Olav and Marvic Lopez, from Venezuela, were surprised by the sheer size of the bulls.

“When I first saw the bulls, they looked a bit smaller, but when you are down there and running with them, it’s like, oh my God, these bulls are pretty big,” Olav Lopez said.

Dunnigan echoed that sentiment.

“When they ran by, they were huge, way taller than you’d think,” Dunnigan said. “It’s like a train just blowing by you … [I was] looking behind [me] the entire time to make sure there wasn’t a monster behind me.”

There were no fatalities in the Atlanta run, but there were some injuries, most of them occurring in the last heat. Peyton Cape, from Gwinnett County, was one of the few injuries, getting stomped on in the third run.

“I started running and a girl tripped in front of me,” Cape said. “I tripped over her and in a matter of seconds, my ankle was stomped out by a bull. It hurt pretty bad.”

Despite the pain, Cape did not have any serious injuries and did not require medical help.

Though some runners had a great time, others complained that the experience was not what they imagined. Nestor Layola and Richard Kershaw, from Nashville, Tenn., took part in the run in Virginia and came to the Atlanta run to see if they could have a better time than they had in Virginia.

“We already did one run, and we thought it wasn’t very exciting because the bulls seemed more scared of the people,” Kershaw said before the Atlanta race. “We are hoping to grab a horn or something.”

Others complained that there were too many people, not enough bulls and that the track was too short.

All runners received a Great Bull Run T-shirt, a red bandana and a beer if they were over 21. The minimum age to run with the bulls was 18. In addition to the bull runs, there were food trucks and games, like a mechanical bull ride and an inflatable jousting station where opponents tried to knock each other off pedestals with poles.

The other part of the festivities was the Tomato Royale, which was a giant tomato food fight. The Tomato Royale was open to anyone who wanted to participate, and all the runners were able to join for free. The  few tons of tomatoes that were initially provided were eventually degraded to a pool of red mush. All the fighters were required to wear eye protection, and by the end, most of them were covered head to toe with tomato juice and seeds. The spectators were not left out of the fight either, with some tomatoes occasionally flying over the fence that surrounded the ring.

“I was pretty awesome,” Tomato Royale participant Conor Brisenbime said. “I got smacked in the face by a tomato about 50 times, but it was fun. I had to clean my glasses every two minutes.”

Dickens wrote in an email interview with The Southerner that the company plans on holding the event each year. In fact, The Great Bull Run has already announced a 2014 schedule,  which includes runs in Dallas, Chicago and Philadelphia.


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Great Bull Run stampedes through Atlanta racetrack