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updated: 7/6/2014 9:55 AM

Can't make it to Spain? Run with the bulls locally

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  • Eighteen bulls will be released in groups of six, providing three passes for fans at the Great Bull Run in Cicero.

      Eighteen bulls will be released in groups of six, providing three passes for fans at the Great Bull Run in Cicero.
    Courtesy of 2013 PWP Studio Event Photographers

  • Eighteen bulls will be released in groups of six, providing three passes for fans at the Great Bull Run in Cicero.

      Eighteen bulls will be released in groups of six, providing three passes for fans at the Great Bull Run in Cicero.
    Courtesy of 2013 PWP Studio Event Photographers

  • Thrill-seekers have long participated in Spain's running with the bulls. A modified version will be available July 12 at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

      Thrill-seekers have long participated in Spain's running with the bulls. A modified version will be available July 12 at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

  • Thrill-seekers have long participated in Spain's running with the bulls. A modified version will be available July 12 at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

      Thrill-seekers have long participated in Spain's running with the bulls. A modified version will be available July 12 at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

  • Safer than running with the bulls -- but far messier -- is the Tomato Royale after the Great Bull Run in Cicero.

      Safer than running with the bulls -- but far messier -- is the Tomato Royale after the Great Bull Run in Cicero.

  • The Great Bull Run on July 12 is followed by Tomato Royale, a massive food fight. Both events are at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

      The Great Bull Run on July 12 is followed by Tomato Royale, a massive food fight. Both events are at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

  • The Great Bull Run on July 12 is followed by Tomato Royale, a massive food fight. Both events are at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

      The Great Bull Run on July 12 is followed by Tomato Royale, a massive food fight. Both events are at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

  • Video: The Great Bull Run

 
By Amy Fuller

A great Spanish tradition -- the bull run -- is on its way to the Chicago area.

On Saturday, July 12, thrill-seekers will get a chance to run with real bulls at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

The event is based on the famed running of the bulls festival in Pamplona, Spain. It's the first time this centuries-old sport has come to the United States, as part of a nationwide event series called The Great Bull Run.

Launched in April 2013, the series features 10 events scheduled nationwide, including at Hawthorne. Each festival features multiple bull runs throughout the day, along with Tomato Royale, a massive tomato food fight with thousands of participants. There's also music, games, food and drinks.

"It's catching on like wildfire, and people are excited," says Rob Dickens, The Great Bull Run's chief operating officer. "Most people can't afford to take a trip to Spain, and now here it is in their backyard for only $50. It's a heck of a better deal."

A crowd of about 6,000 is expected for the local event, he says. So far, feedback from past festivals has been extremely positive. "There's nothing like running with 1,500-pound bulls. People like to test themselves against real danger. It's an adrenaline rush. That's what this event provides people, that euphoric sensation after they run," he says.

So how close does it replicate the real Spanish experience? Dickens says many people have misconceptions about what happens in Pamplona -- namely, that the bulls are released and immediately begin attacking. In reality, he says, only a handful of people are hurt and most by other people in the crowd, not the bulls. Also in Spain, the bulls' horns are intentionally sharpened, increasing the chances for goring.

In the local event, there is no "rushing of the bulls" or horn sharpening. Eighteen bulls are released in waves of six, providing three separate passes for fans. The bulls run on dirt or grass, rather than pavement, which is bad for their legs, Dickens says. Escape routes and hiding spots are provided for runners.

The event isn't like a race or a marathon, he says. "When the bulls are released, they run by you fairly quickly down the middle of the track," he says. "What we've seen is that the first time, people are too scared to get close to the bulls. So they hang by the fence and then regret it. The next time, they get a little closer. A lot of people run three to four times throughout the day and get a little braver each time."

Of the 20,000 people who have participated in the five bull runs to date, only two have required significant medical attention, one for a broken wrist and one for a broken pelvis, organizers say. All participants must sign a waiver.

Unlike in Spain, the bulls aren't killed in a bullfight after the festival. Vets monitor their health and safety, and there have been no bull injuries thus far, organizers say.

Running with the bulls has always been on Ashley Fracassi's bucket list. The 23-year-old Wood Dale resident signed up for the local event without hesitation after hearing about it. "I am a thrill-seeker, and this seemed like one thing to do before I die," she says.

To prepare, she's been doing cardio at the gym. "My adrenaline is pumping already just thinking about it," Fracassi says. "Of course, I am a little nervous and scared. I just expect to have a really good time and outrun the bulls!"

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