Here is what not to do at a bull run: Pull the tail of one of the bulls. Stop to pick up a fallen cellphone as the crowd — and the bulls — bears down on you. Wear a costume that makes it hard to see the oncoming animals.
Participants in Running of the Bulls USA, held Friday and Saturday on a quarter-mile dirt track at a ranch in this town just north of Phoenix, broke all those rules and more. But because the Arizona animals were tamer than their Spanish counterparts, injuries were kept to a minimum.
“These bulls are like golden retrievers, and the bulls over there are like pit bulls with rabies,” said Justin Kufahl, 35, who has participated in 22 Pamplona runs and was on hand to offer advice to novice bull runners.
He told people to keep an eye on the bulls but also to watch out for other runners. He advised those who did fall to stay down and allow the bulls to pass. The most fundamental piece of advice, though, he did not need to utter: Run!
He might have brought up the issue of dropped cellphones; one participant dropped hers as she was filming her experience and tried to recover it as bulls and people rumbled past her. The tail puller ended up face down in the dirt after he lost his footing and the bull ran on.
Participants ran in oversize sombreros, kilts and prison uniforms. It was those wearing masks who found it most difficult to track the pursuing animals.
“There’s a lot of adrenaline,” said Mike Holzberg, a retiree from Scottsdale who dashed ahead of the bulls along with college students, stockbrokers, teachers and the unemployed.
After huffing and puffing around the track, some said they found the bulls to be not as fierce as they had imagined.
“What is this, walking with the bulls?” one participant shouted out as he finished the course, looked back and still did not see any bulls at his heels.
“Gotta slap some fur,” said Christopher Stine, a salesman from Scottsdale who wore a Viking helmet and red armband as he dashed so close to the bulls that he could reach out and touch one. Organizers said the risks were real, given that the 21 bulls, even with their dull horns and relatively docile natures, weighed 800 to 1,500 pounds.
“What’s going to happen is someone is going to fall, and then others will fall, and the bulls will run right over them,” an organizer, Patrick O’Donnell, said as the event got under way on Friday night, a prediction that did not come to pass, at least on a grand scale. “That’s what you sign up for: the unexpected.”
Mr. O’Donnell experienced just that years ago when he was riding a bull and a horn tore through his left cheek. The scar, an indentation that resembles a dimple, is still visible.
Though runners were concerned about their safety, John Hetzel was more focused on the well-being of the bulls, which he owns and uses for rodeos. “The worst thing that could happen is one of them gets hurt,” said Mr. Hetzel, who rode on horseback behind the pack of bulls to drive them toward the runners. “They’re my babies.”
Animal rights activists criticized the bull run as cruel, and the town of Cave Creek, which is known for its Western charm, withdrew its support after organizers did not come up with $3 million in insurance. As an ambulance stood at the ready near the track, which was on private property, Mayor Vincent Francia said he would be holding his breath until the event was over, hoping that nothing went awry.
Salvador Rodriguez contributed reporting.
This article, first appeared in The New York Times.