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The Newest U.S. Thrill Sport? The Running of the Bulls Comes to America

Everyone's heard of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, (see video) a tradition made famous by Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises. I've run with the bulls too—not in Pamplona, but in Tecate, Mexico, in 1980, in a makeshift recreation of the Pamplona encierro. What a disaster. The bulls were small yearlings, far too young for such an event. It looked to me as if the tips of their horns had been purposely blunted. The runners were mainly drunk and rowdy college kids who yanked the animals' tails, knocked their legs out from under them, and piled on top of them as if it were a rugby scrum. And now, a group calling itself the Great Bull Run is bringing this extreme activity to a city near you. But hold the olés just yet.

The organizers promise that the bulls will be treated well, with frequent inspections by veterinarians. After the events, the bulls will return to "their free-range ranch where they relax in open fields," according to the website's FAQ page. But these are real bulls, with real horns. "These bulls aren’t deer at a petting zoo," says the website. "They WILL run you over if you’re in their way."

Each of the bull runs, to be held at 10 motorsports  and horse-racing courses across the country through June 2014, will be a quarter-mile long on a dirt or grass track. Up to 1,000 "adrenalin junkies" at a time will run with the bulls. There will be 24 bulls in each event, released in three waves of eight bulls 15 seconds apart.

There will be some safety precautions not found at Pamplona. The fences that line the route will have cubby holes for hiding. The bulls are not as aggressive as those in Pamplona (the ones in Pamplona are on their way to a bullfight, where they will be killed). But make no mistake: this is a dangerous business. Participants must sign a waiver acknowledging that potential risks include "damage to internal organs, spinal injuries, stroke, heart attack, and death." Did I hear someone say "Party!"?

The inaugural bull run is scheduled for August 24 at the Virginia Motorsports Park, south of Richmond, VA. Two more are planned for this year (Atlanta in October and Houston in December), and seven more next year in Florida, Southern California, Dallas, the Twin Cities, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Chicago.

The price range is $35-$65, depending on when you buy your ticket in advance, and includes the bull run, a "Tomato Royale" mass fruit fight, T-shirt, bandana, and "one beer." Although participants are told not to imbibe before the run, I imagine—and this is just a wild guess—that that single cerveza will merely supplement the many downed in anticipation of the event. OK, now, I suppose, you can say olé, if you still feel like it.

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 Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. Connect with him on Twitter @orwoll and Facebook.

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