Like many thrill seekers before him, Rob Dickens had long entertained a dream of running with the bulls through the streets of Pamplona, Spain, a tradition that dates back 400 years. But when he and a friend attempted to go in 2010, they found that all hotels had been sold out, trains were booked and the cost of flights was prohibitively high.
"It occurred to me that the experience was probably not accessible to most Americans," Dickens told ABC News. "And I thought, well, why not bring it here instead."
So he did.
The Great Bull Run is a new nationwide festival touring select U.S. cities that offers adrenaline junkies the chance to run for a quarter mile alongside 1,500-pound charging bulls. For just $55, participants can hot foot it with the stampede, engage in a large-scale tomato fight, and receive a commemorative t-shirt, a bandana and a beer. No boarding pass necessary.
"We’ve actually improved the experience for both the humans and the bulls," said Dickens, who has previously organized large-scale events such as the Rugged Maniac Obstacle Race series. "In Pamplona, you get just 12 bulls running by and it's very fleeting. People here have this perception that it’s 100 bulls in Spain and you’re running for hours at a time, but that's not the case. So we release two sets of 18 bulls and divide them into groups of six. Instead of one pass, you get three passes and more chances to run with them."
Other points of difference are that The Great Bull Run takes place on a long dirt course set up between barricade fencing, as opposed to paved streets twisting past buildings in Pamplona.
"The dirt is better for the bulls' hooves," said Dickens, who employs medical veterinarians to care for the animals. "Bulls also aren't meant to make sharp turns through street corners, which is why you will see videos of them falling on YouTube. So the course itself is safer for the bulls."
These considerations have not prevented animal rights groups from picketing against the events in some areas.
"No matter how cautious the organizers may appear to be, there is no way to ensure that the animals won’t suffer or be injured at these events,” stated a petition by the Georgia Animal Rights and Protection Group. “After having been loaded onto trucks and herded into an arena filled with thousands of screaming people, the bulls will bolt out of the pen in a state of panic, confusion and terror when the starting gate opens.”
To date, no animal injuries have been reported by The Great Bull Run. Humans, on the other hand, do occasionally get banged up. But that possibility hasn't stopped men and women of all ages from participating.
"Heart pounding! Adrenaline rush! A once in a lifetime opportunity!" was how Cathy Steele, 39, described her experience running at Maple Grove Speedway in Mohnton, Pennsylvania, in an e-mail to ABC News. Steele brought along her husband, Nate Steele, 36, her brother-in-law Tony Steele, 38, and her mother Cassandra Schultz, 70. "My mom was the oldest person to run the day of event!"