Telegraph reporter runs with the bulls near Atlanta

jmink@macon.comOctober 19, 2013 

A group gathers to run with the bulls Saturday at the Georgia International Horse Park near Atlanta.

JENNA MINK/THE TELEGRAPH

CONYERS -- It’s over, and I’m dripping red. I’m bruised and throbbing. It feels like someone kicked me in the ribs and punched me in the jaw.

People have asked me why I wanted to run with the bulls. I gave them the expected answers: “I’m a thrill seeker.” “You only live once.” “I’m certifiably insane.”

But here’s the sincere reason: It was there, so why not? The century-old adventure, which has become a tradition for danger-chasers, has migrated stateside from Pamplona, Spain. On Saturday, the Great Bull Run brought people, like me, to the Georgia International Horse Park near Atlanta.

Thousands of adrenaline junkies, curious spectators and downright nutcases ventured to the park on a cloudy, chilly afternoon. Many were clad in the customary all-white garb, but there were a handful of tutus, capes and a few people with bright, red bull’s-eyes painted on their shirts.

About 600 of them were clustered with me on the dirt track, waiting their turns to go head to head -- or rather, behind to horn -- with about a dozen huge, seemingly unhappy beasts that trot at 30 miles an hour. There we stood, shouting and waving our red bandanas in the air, a signal to our foes that we were ready and not scared.

But the truth is, I was shaking and already planning my escape route. The track included nooks where people could escape the oncoming bulls, but I decided they were unreliable because there is no guarantee a runner can make it to a nook. So, my grand scheme was to run along the fence and simply leap over it when the bulls came charging.

It was the foolish plan of an amateur. The bulls were released. A few seconds went by, and no action. Suddenly, a wave of runners swelled toward me, galloping at a speed that was almost more frightening than the bulls. I forgot my plan and lost sight of my friend who was running next to me. I ran for my life.

I smelled the stench first. Then, I looked behind me as a group of runners parted and found myself staring into the dark eyes of a caramel-colored bull. In a few seconds, it was over. The bull ran around me, and the run was complete. Others in later runs were not so lucky. The crowd gasped and yelped as runner after runner hit the dirt, covering their heads as the animals thundered over them. It seemed no one was injured -- until the next phase of the bull adventure, that is.

As part of a tradition that began in Spain, hundreds of us celebrated our survival with a massive tomato fight. I told my friend it would be a shame to conquer the bull run and then perish during the tomato fight.

No one perished, but it was a true fight, resulting in bleeding, bruising and more trampling. The crowd rushed toward a mountain of tomatoes, grunting and laughing as they mercilessly chucked them at one another. Overhead, sopping, red fruit flew for half an hour.

The ground was so saturated with red slush that people began skidding through the parking lot on the stomachs, like a Slip ‘N Slide.

My friend and I were navigating the crowd when it hit -- a fist in the side of my face. Only it wasn’t a fist, but a tomato. My friend began to console me when, bam, she was hit, right in the gut. All around us, people were yelping, grasping their noses, stomachs and ribs.

“Let’s retreat,” my friend screamed, as she slung tomato slop toward a man with bright green goggles.

In the end, I survived my first bull run. But, perhaps most importantly, I survived the tomato battle.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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