It was a mixture of adrenaline and liquid courage that propelled hundreds of Minnesotans into a dusty corral in Elk River Saturday, where they would take their chances running alongside 28 stampeding bulls.
As daredevils decked in red tutus, superhero capes and other forms of attire — or lack thereof — prepared to be chased around a quarter-mile track by the 1,500-pound beasts, the event’s co-founder shouted words of encouragement for the wary.
“You only get so many chances to run with the bulls,” Rob Dickens told the first group, “so why not do it now?”
Elk River Extreme Motor Park hosted the Great Bull Run event, which attracted about 5,000 people — approximately 3,000 participants and 2,000 spectators — for an Americanized version of Pamplona’s annual San Fermin festival. Guests had three opportunities to test their luck in the bullpen, as well as access to music, games, food and beer.
Paramedics treated several people for scrapes and bruises, but no major injuries were reported.
“Injuries are few and far between with bull runs, but when they do happen they’re usually pretty severe,” said Mark Cassano, who owns the on-site EMS service specializing in extreme sports.
The Great Bull Run was originally scheduled for May at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, but the park’s board of directors backed out due to safety concerns. Since August, the Great Bull Run LLC has put on seven events across the nation. In that time, Dickens has heard about three broken bones — an injury rate he calls “lower than a college football game.”
Participants in Saturday’s event were spread out on the track. The bulls, pushed by cowboys on horseback, came charging forward in four waves of seven, giving adrenaline junkies time to return to their positions or pick themselves up off the ground. Nooks in the fencing allowed runners to sidestep danger.
During his second run of the day, Mitch Omer, 60, got tossed around several times by the bulls. He split his lip open in the chaos, but said the experience was worth the risk.
“Kitchen work is boring,” said Omer, who owns Hell’s Kitchen restaurant in downtown Minneapolis, “but this is great.”
Chandler Goering, 25, ran with a group of friends in matching patriotic costumes. “It’s on you to make it your intensity [level],” said Goering, an Army sergeant from Red Wing.
The festivities also included the Tomato Royale, an event where guests went to an enclosed space that held 60,000 tomatoes — 20,000 pounds — and lobbed them at their neighbors.
“What we wanted to do was give people who were not participating in the bull run something wild and crazy to do that’s not quite as dangerous,” Dickens said.
Dickens and his business partner came up with the idea for bull run after planning a trip to Pamplona to do the Spanish run themselves. But when they realized how expensive and difficult it was to book hotels, trains and flights, they realized it would be impossible to go.
“I’m a relatively successful guy and if I can’t make that happen, then there must be hundreds of thousands of people here in the U.S. that want to do it but can’t make it happen,” he said.
So far, the biggest complaint Dickens has heard about the festivals is that they aren’t dangerous enough. To appease his guests, Dickens added more aggressive bulls and strengthened their numbers. “You can’t really find bulls that want to attack people.”