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Houston's Own Bull Run

Houston's own running of the bulls brings big crowds, a head injury and surprisingly little controversy

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Great Bull Run 07
Look out! Photo by: Eric Sandler
Great Bull Run 08
Excuse us, coming through. Photo by: Eric Sandler
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The crowd raises their bandanas and recite a pledge before the bulls are let loose.  Photo by: Eric Sandler
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Here comes the bulls.  Photo by: Eric Sandler
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Time to run.  Photo by: Eric Sandler
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Get out of the way! Photo by: Eric Sandler
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The bulls run at speeds of up to 35 mph, so no one stays with them for long.  Photo by: Eric Sandler
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Pretty soon they've passed most of the people.  Photo by: Eric Sandler
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Time to get out of the way.  Photo by: Eric Sandler
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Yeehaw! Photo by: Eric Sandler
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In the moment, when push comes to shove, how does one react to danger? Does a person rise to the occasion or fall face first into the mud?

Modern life is comfortable. For some people, fear may only come when a police officer follows them for a few blocks. "What did I do? Am I going to get pulled over? Do I have a current insurance card?" The stakes are pretty low.

And yet, some people crave the adrenalin rush that only comes from engaging in a truly frightening activity. 

It's the same impulse that causes people to race cars, skydive and train for combat sports. Or fly to Pamplona to run with the bulls. Rob Dickens understands.

 Four animal rights protestors stood along the road leading up to the park, but they didn't seem to dissuade anyone from coming in.   

"We tried to go Pamplona, but we couldn't make it happen," Dickens tell CultureMap. Turns out, one does not simply fly to Pamplona. The flights are expensive and every available hotel room gets booked a year or more in advance. 

Using the logistical experience he gained from from the Rugged Maniac mud runs, he set out to determine how to bring Pamplona across the Atlantic. The result is The Great Bull Run, which made its controversial Texas debut Saturday at Baytown's Royal Purple Raceway.

More than 3,000 people registered in advance to participate in one of the event's six heats, during which they'd get to run alongside bulls on the raceway's muddy track and experience a few moments of danger. All told, Dickens expects the total to grow to between 5,000 and 6,000 with walk-up sales.

The cost? As low as $40 if paid in advance or $70 day of. Participants in an early heat could go back a second time for an additional $20.

For that price, Dickens says the event "gives (participants) an experience they don't get in their lives . . . (and) emotions they don't often feel." Afterwards, they can say "I face my fear and came out unscathed." Or with a couple minor bruises and a cool story about where they came from. And maybe not just a minor bruise. Or such a cool story.

In a seventh run — added at the last minute — 21-year-old Hugo Soto suffered a head injury and left on a stretcher, headed for a local hospital.

Stars of the Show

The bulls live on an 800-acre ranch in Kentucky, where they're raised to be ridden in rodeo events, Dickens says. For the bull run, they're divided into two groups that each run three times. A FAQ on the event's website addresses the bull's treatment and claims that running in dirt is easier for the bulls than running on cobblestone streets. 

Not that everyone is convinced this is anything close to humane. Four animal rights protestors stood along the road leading up to the park, but they didn't seem to dissuade anyone from coming in.  

After the final heat there's a Tomato Royale, where participants fling 30,000 pounds of tomatoes at each other.

Marine veteran Daniel Humble provided a typical response when asked why he decided to do the bull run. "Why not," he asked before jogging off. Two friends traveled from Waterloo, Iowa to cross the experience off their bucket list. 

"It was fast," a participant named K'Lyna said afterwards. She was going back for a second run. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity, the fun, the thrill."

Well, maybe not quite once a lifetime. Dickens says the run will return in September and become an annual event. And it's spreading across Texas. The Great Bull Run comes to Dallas April 5.   

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