Only one thing comes into your head as you stare up the track, waiting for your chance to jump in front of thousands and thousands of pounds of raging, snorting beef: your heartbeat.
It beats from your sternum up through your ears, your own war drum, drowning out thoughts of "why am I here?" or "what would my mother say if I died facedown in this grass under the crushing weight of 60 hooves?" You've probably already found a way to reconcile or ignore those, anyway.
Then a man yells "here they come!" And you watch hundreds of others turn toward you to flee. Behind them, you see the horns.
Your legs come into motion by themselves. There is only instinct now. A primal, guttural sound that you may not recognize as your own escapes your throat — something beyond fear.
It is the wild cry of survival.
• • •
Before the Great Bull Run, CEO Rob Dickens offered me some advice:
"This is not a race in any sense of the word. Outrunning the bulls is out of the question."
And why would it be? The bulls come down the track about 35 miles per hour, he said. The average human sprints at about 12 to 15.
If you fall, he said, it's best to stay down. The bulls will likely jump over you. If you try to get up, you only become a bigger target.
Only 15 people have perished in the Pamplona bull runs in a century, he told the Tampa Bay Times in an earlier interview, and of the more than 10,000 people who have participated in the Great Bull Run's events so far, nobody has died and only two injuries have been serious: a broken wrist and a broken pelvis. (On Saturday, no one was seriously injured).
You stand at either side of the track. When the bulls come, you decide whether to run beside the fence and play it safe, or run with them and try to get close. The closer you get, the more dangerous it becomes, the more authentic the adrenaline high.
People have been feeding the urge in this way since at least 1592 in Pamplona, Spain. Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises brought pilgrims of the sport from all over the world.
Then Rob Dickens decided to bring it stateside and make it a little safer. Every few feet of track, there are nooks into which you can scurry if you're being run down by one of the heaving creatures. Their horns are dulled, too. But make no mistake, as a waiver ensures you are aware, YOU COULD DIE.
That's what drew thousands of runners and spectators and me out to the Little Everglades Ranch on Saturday morning, where for $35 before, $65 the day of, you could feel like you were going to die.
"I like it because it's unfiltered," said Gary Adams, 24, part of a group of college buddies who came from Orlando.
"I wanted a life-threatening reason to train and run for this," said his friend Alejandro Caicedo, 23. "It takes me back to a time before 'do not try this at home.' "
Indeed, the run takes you back to a mind frame indistinguishable from an animal's and rips you from the safe dailiness of personhood. There is no living in the moment quite like checking over your shoulder to find that you are directly in the path of a stampeding steer. The primal shriek spills out again and you dash out of the way just in time. In less than 15 seconds, it's over.
As you turn around to watch the bulls thunder down the track, you again become aware of yourself. Only this time, it's more intense. Your vision is more vivid. Smells stand out more. You are now conscious of the warmth of sun on your skin.
You are alive.
Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.