So you want to run with the bulls, but you can't afford to take a week off from work and don't want to spend thousands of dollars to take an 11-hour airplane ride to Madrid, then a three-hour train ride to Pamplona, Spain for the San Fermin Festival, made famous by the Ernest Hemingway novel, The Sun Also Rises?
Well, you're in luck.
The Great Bull Run will take place on Saturday at the Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City on a quarter-mile track with 28 bulls weighing approximately 1,500 pounds each and racing at speeds up to 35 mph. Two of the six heats are already sold out, but there is still an opportunity to get in on the action.
And if that wasn't enough to excite you, the company running the event also offers the Tomato Royale, a festival similar to the famous La Tomatina in the Spanish town of Bunol, where participants throw tomatoes in a food fight for fun.
"It's an opportunity for people here in the U.S. to take part in iconic events held in Spain and not have to worry about traveling across the Atlantic to do it or spend thousands of dollars to enjoy the fun," said Rob Dickens, 35, co-founder of the events and co-owner of Rugged Maniac, the company he and Brad Scudder started in 2010.
The Great Bull Run is the light version of the crueler event held in Pamplona, where bulls are let loose from one section of the town, "transported" over cobblestone streets that twist and turn past a throng of rabid spectators, and led into their eventual place of death — the bullring.
"What most people here [in the U.S.] don't understand is the point for the Running of the Bulls in Spain is to get them to the ring, where they will be killed in a bullfight," said Dickens, a former lawyer who was based in New York and now runs Rugged Maniac out of Boston. "Not only do we care about animals, we want to make sure our bulls are safe and healthy because they're going to be used through all the events we have during the year."
In addition, unlike the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, where bulls have to navigate more than 900 yards around tight corners and winding streets over cobblestones, the tracks used by Rugged Maniac are either dirt, grass or both. The Dade City complex is well-renown in the Tampa Bay area for staging cross-country and equestrian events because of its lush conditions. Furthermore, the course is a straight run lasting a quarter-mile.
As opposed to the San Fermin festival, where thousands crowd the streets creating a human speed bump, Dickens said participants at Dade City will "line a more wide-open track" to wait for the approaching bulls and run alongside them, although photos of the previous events paint a different picture. Fortunately, there have not been any deaths — nor critical injuries — in the three Great Bull Runs held so far by the company.
The event in Dade City will be the fourth Bull Run held since the first one was staged in August at the Virginia Motor Sports Park in Richmond, Va. Rugged Maniac will put on 11 runs throughout the country this year.
Dickens estimates close to 3,000 participants and 2,000 spectators will attend the festival in Dade City.
Despite the excitement and supposed safety, PETA has raised concerns, describing the event as "reckless and dangerous for humans" and "an inhuman exploitation of animals."
"Of course, it's not similar to the one in Spain, but these animals are still being forced to participate in something terrifying for them," said Alicia Woempner, special projects manager for PETA. "This is something unnatural for the bulls and they are being exploited for an event staged simply for the enjoyment by humans. In addition, it's just a matter of time before someone dies or gets severely injured."
Woempner said PETA has asked members to reach out to venues to cancel the events. In addition, PETA has set up a petition for a call to action on its website, peta.org.
In response, Dickens said his company goes "above and beyond" to make sure the bulls are treated humanely.
In terms of safety concerns for humans, Dickens said the danger factor is the reason people are interested in an event like the Great Bull Run.
"The reason we started this event was because we wanted to give people a chance to do something daring without the more inherent risk factors associated with the one in Spain," Dickens said. "You're always worried about things going wrong and that's part of the planning process. You identify the risks and you try and minimize those to the extent that you can."
Participants have to be 18 or over, in good health and will have to sign waivers. The cost to sign up for the event now stands at $65 and can be paid either online or at the venue on the day of the event. For more information, visit: http://www.thegreatbullrun.com/