A morning storm didn't keep hundreds from getting up, getting dressed and driving miles to Hawthorne Race Course to be chased by 1,000 pound bulls – on purpose – Saturday.
The Great Bull Run, modeled after the famous San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain, was held July 12 at Hawthorne. Over the six runs held Saturday, each taking less than a few minutes to complete, runners stood in a straight, fenced in track waiting for the bulls to be released about 100 yards away.
At each run, 600-800 prepared to sprint, followed by the beasts, weighing as much as 1,500 pounds each, which were released 12 to 20 at a time.
Runners were instructed to hold their ground until the bulls were on them, then run. To keep the action going, about 20 bulls were released three times for each individual run.
A bull runs at about 30 miles an hour, while people run at about eight, the announcer said prior to the first run in a sort of pep talk.
That is to say that the bulls tended to run by in a flash: Blink and you've wasted a lot of adrenalin for nothing. But, if the first wave of bulls passed you by and paid you little mind, no worries, another group would soon be blazing by to provide the rush again.
Ryan Renfro, who drove down from Kenosha, Wisc., stood with his girlfriend Kim Mineau, prior to their run on the mud track. Renfro agreed that purposely running with a herd of bulls excites a different breed of people.
"I think it takes a different kind of person to knowingly do that," Renfro said. "If it happened by accident, I'm sure people would run faster. It's going to be interesting."
Mineau said it took some convincing from her boyfriend to participate in the run, too, but in the end she agreed it would be fun.
"It's a once in a lifetime experience, so I'm excited, "she said.
Alexander Anagnostopoulis, of Northbrook, said he heard about the run on the Internet and decided to come out.
"I've always wanted to go running with the bulls in Pamplonas; this saved me the plane ticket," he said. "The only thing I'm apprehensive about is can I get the right shot with my Go Pro [camera]."
Tom Plant, of Tinley Park, was drawn into the madness by his cousin, Willy Plant, who heard about the run through Facebook.
"We still haven't figured out why yet," Tom Plant said. "But it's cheaper than a trip to Spain. It should be a good time."
Willy Plant of Naperville said running with the bulls was something he has always wanted to do.
"I like the thrills, the adrenalin," he said.
His girlfriend, Dori Meyers of Indianapolis, said she has been giving her choice of a boyfriend some thought after convincing her to face the horns.
"I been thinking about it a little bit," she said. "It's a little disconcerting, but it's O.K."
What the lacked in ambience — there were no narrow, wall-lined streets, let alone a quaint Spanish city on display —there was no shortage of spirit. The runners were into this. Many followed tradition by wearing all white with red accents, and many took on the look of soccer hooligans: Plastic Viking helmets with horns, face paint, Toreador hats with ball fringe, and more than a few suited up as Super Heroes. There were men in kilts, women in tulle tutu's, and others dressed like they forgot to take their medication when they had their coffee in the morning.
But those who ran shared a common obstacle: the mud.
A stream of runners who had just finished walked onto the concourse wearing big smiles and mud-splattered clothes; the more mud, the bigger the smile.
For Lawrence Ortega of Chicago it was awesome.
"The bulls just run by you so fast," he said. "You think you're going to have enough time to go with them the whole way. But it's just a rush. It was fun."
Martin Leon of Chicago said it was good enough to do it again.
"At first you're like: "Oh man, let's go, let's go, but once you see them coming, oh boy," he said.
Asked if he ever had second thoughts, Leon said he did only after he entered the gate, but by then it was too late to back out and save face.
"Then I didn't want to look like ... a person that just backed out," he said.
Not all who came to Hawthorne on Saturday shared the runner's enthusiasm for the event. A group of people stood at the entrance, signs in hand, to protest the use of bulls as a means of entertainment.
But, the emcee assured the crowd inside that not only did organizers of the bull run love its bulls and took glowing care of them, but anyone who was seen trying to touch or in any way hurt a bull during the runs would be immediately escorted off the property.
After all, when an object weighing 1,500 pounds hits an object weighing 180 pounds, there's no mistake which stands to lose more.