STRATHMORE, Alta. - Rachael Knopf ran with the bulls on a bit of a dare last year, but wondered what she had gotten into when she heard the angry snorts and thundering hoofs behind her.
Not to mention the up-close view of two guys getting run over and knocked unconscious.
"I watched both go down," said Knopf. "Their heads got in the wrong way at the wrong time.
"My heart was pounding."
But the 20-year-old expects she'll do it all again this year at the Strathmore Stampede Running With the Bulls competition, Aug. 2-3.
"You're hearing the pounding of their feet. You're hearing them snorting a little bit. You're hearing other people behind you yelling because you're running with 75 people," she said.
"You hear everybody else yelling, 'Get to the side!' It's pretty crazy."
Running With the Bulls has become one of the signature events of the four-day rodeo in Strathmore, 50 kilometres east of Calgary. It's Canada's version of Pamplona's famous running of the bulls in Spain.
It began 11 years ago and has continued, with a yearly harvest of wild attire, bumps, bruises, concussions and ambulance visits — all for the $1,000 top prize.
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Jim Cammaert, the event organizer, said that in recent years they've had the maximum 80 runners per night, coming from all over Canada and beyond.
The winner, he said, is the one with the best combination of fast feet and calculated derring-do.
"It's not about intimidating a bull or even getting run over by a bull. It's somebody who gets in the mix and runs with them as far and as fast as they can," said Cammaert.
The trick, he said, is to run on the periphery of the bulls' radar.
"(The best runners) get right on the edge of that territory, and they run with them and the bulls let them run with them."
Get too close, though, and it's mayhem.
"Bulls by nature are territorial. There's kind of a fine line when you get in a bull's territory," he said. "(When you do enter their radar) they usually will move you out.
"It’s their territory. It's their run. And they're big enough to make sure that they own it."
Entrants must be age 18 and older, and pay a $25 entry fee.
Each night there are three heats, with the bulls getting larger each heat.
Some of the runners dress in outrageous costumes to catch, well, the bull's eye. There are runners clad only in tutus, superhero outfits, diapers and Speedos. They dress as nuns, cows and angels.
Last year, Knopf and her friend were the blue-maned Thing One and Thing Two of Dr. Seuss fame.
The more fearless run in harm's way, while the novices and the less adventurous keep close to the fences and jump up on the railing if a bull sets his sights on them, said Knopf.
"Lots of people go without even getting near a bull. They stay on the complete opposite of the track the entire time," she said. "As long as you're near the fence you're pretty safe."
Injuries are possible and there are bull wranglers and paramedics nearby to help those who get trampled, tossed and pinned.
Knopf's advice: "Bring good shoes, and stay with the group.
"Find a good buddy. You stick together. If you don't see a bull on one side, they do. And they can warn you."
— By Dean Bennett in Edmonton.
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