America’s Running of the Bulls? It’s Total Bull

The annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, has resulted in at least 15 deaths. In August, a similar event is premiering in Virginia.

Revellers run with ranch fighting bulls at Curva Estafeta during the San Fermin Running of the Bulls festival, on July 8, 2013, in Pamplona, Spain. (Photo: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Jul 12, 2013· 3 MIN READ
has an ASME Award, edits for Backpacker Magazine and writes for Outside, Skiing, and more.

Here’s what a 40-year-old contestant of Pamplona, Spain’s annual bull run once said about his experience unsuccessfully attempting to outrun an angry 1,000-pound bull: “When you are gored, you feel as if you have been stabbed, like a truck has run over you. My back was covered in blood, but those are the risks of the bull run.”

Unfortunately for the bulls, the option of whether or not to gore such an intelligent fellow is really no option at all. For decades, the running of the bulls has unfolded in the streets of Pamplona. The encierro takes place every morning at 8 a.m. from July 7 to 14. With the launching of two rockets, a dozen steers and bulls charge behind thousands of runners for 825 meters into a bull ring. The run usually lasts between three and four minutes, and, in 2011, at least, resulted in the goring, trampling, and injury of 41 people.

Fortunately for the injured, ambulances and newspaper crews await to whisk them to hospitals and write breathless accounts of the participants’ bravery. But for the bulls, the end of the race signals something different. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, after the bulls ran through the streets to the bull ring in 2011, every one of the dozen animals was killed in bull fights.

“Instead of killing bulls, we much prefer the version of the run cooked up by roller derby groups, in which roller girls wearing horned hats and wielding Nerf weaponry chase participants through the streets in a running of bullies,” PETA wrote on its website after the event.

But thanks to a new bull running organization here in America, even you can be gored by a bull while attempting to outrun it in front of hundreds of spectators.

According to the website The Great Bull Run, this August 24, anyone with legs and $75 can head to the Virginia Motorsports Park in Petersburg, Virginia, and “Grab life by the horns and experience the rush of a lifetime as you sprint down a quarter-mile track with twelve 1,000-pound bulls hot on your heels.”

Yet on the website’s frequently asked questions page, its information on “running with the bulls” is completely misleading. According to the site, bulls run 15 miles an hour, while we run much slower. “What actually happens, both in Pamplona and here, is that you arrange yourself somewhere on the quarter-mile track and wait for the bulls to come to you,” say the event’s organizers. “When you see the bulls approaching, you start running and try to keep up with them for as long as you can. Ostensibly, the reason some people get gored while others don’t is because they try longer to keep up with the bulls.”

The Great Bull Run organizers insist, however, that unlike in Pamplona, American running bulls aren’t killed in bull fights or abused. They insist they don’t hit bulls, or shock them, or deprive them of food, water, light, or sleep.

Organizers say they “have a veterinarian on site at all times to make sure the bulls are treated properly and are perfectly healthy before, during and after each run. Not enough? We use the same set of bulls at all of our events in each region so they become accustomed to the crowds and the run, reducing any anxiety they may feel. Still want more? All of our events are held on grass or dirt to help prevent the bulls and runners from slipping during the run. Finally, each bull runs the quarter-mile track no more than twice during the event to prevent any risk of overexertion. After the event, the bulls return to their free-range ranch where they relax in open fields.”

But PETA, who brought the running-bull abuse to our attention, says even these precautions aren’t enough to protect animals that were never intended to be used for human entertainment. The other issue is that The Great Bull Run’s website states that the reason there are no photos from Great Bull Run festivals is because “our inaugural event hasn’t even happened yet.” We at TakePart were also confused about how organizers could claim such a clean safety record for bulls, so sent an email to with these words “Please substantiate claims about bulls’ safety despite the fact that no Great Bull Run has yet taken place” in the subject line.

As of 24 hours after our email request, no spokesperson had responded.

But Carrie Poppy, spokesperson for PETA, did. Poppy shares the same suspicion we do about claims made on the Great Bull Run website.

“We noticed that they’re making claims about the bulls’ safety before ever having held an event,” she said. “But there is no doubt that the running of bulls is cruel and dangerous and it puts both people and animals at risk. The running of bulls in Spain has resulted in at least 15 deaths, and even in this version, which organizers claim will be safer, the animals will have to endure loud noises, crowds of people, scaring, and taunting.

“This is something the American public would never accept if it were cats or dogs,” adds Poppy. “And the bottom line is that any form of taunting or provoking of any animal is unacceptable.”

According to Poppy, PETA intends to watch the first Great Bull Run, on August 24, closely. “And if anything happens to those animals,” she says, “I think it’s safe to say that PETA will definitely take action.”