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Bull run far from humdrum

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It won't push the Super Bowl in the Nielsen ratings or replace baseball as the national pastime.

But the inaugural "run with the bulls" in Mesquite Saturday was a harmless enough event that drew about 700 runners in search of an adrenalin rush.In a town where most folks get their beef on a plate for about five bucks, nearly 8,000 spectators sweated through 105-degree temperatures for nearly two hours to watch a handful of rodeo bulls make a quarter-mile dash through two crowds of about 350 runners each.

When it was over, none of the bulls were any the worse for wear, and only a couple of the runners sustained fairly minor injuries that did not require hospitalization.

And for some folks, like Orem real estate agent Jim Hathorne, 52, it was the chance to realize a lifelong dream that he had shared with Buddy J. Christensen of Escondido, Calif., since the two men were college chums back in 1964.

"We've been talking about running at Pamplona for 35 years," he said, referring to the famous San Fermin festival of the bulls in Spain. "But we just never did it.

"So we figured it was now or never," he added. "Life is running with the bulls anyway - at least this way we know where the bulls are."

Christensen, who is also Hathorne's real estate attorney and legal counsel, linked up with his friend in Mesquite for the run.

"It's safer than driving from Orem to Salt Lake City with the freeway reconstruction," Ha-thorne added.

Billy Williams, a 43-year-old Park City sales representative for a clothing company, showed up for the run toting a 10-ounce pair of red leather boxing gloves.

Well aware of the animal rights protest about the run, however, he assured other runners that he was not taking up cow punching late in life.

"I wouldn't dream of hurting the bulls," he said. "I bought the gloves just in case (NBA basketball referee) Dick Bavetta showed up."

Williams said the way Bavetta officiated the last game of the NBA finals between the Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls, it wouldn't have been surprising to see him turn up in Mesquite and give these bulls a helping hand, too.

Twila Whidden, a 41-year-old word processor from Las Vegas, showed up with her husband to be one of a couple dozen women runners who entered the event.

"My husband has been wanting to run a Pamplona since he was eight years old, and this is cheaper than going to Spain," she said.

"He didn't con me into it. . . . I'm doing this on my own. . . . We usually do everything together."

Chris Klingel, 27, was sitting at home in Salt Lake City Friday night when he saw a television news story about the bull run and decided to enter.

Twelve hours later he was standing at the bull running site on the Oasis Ranch and Gun Club, sporting a bright red San Francisco 49ers football shirt with Steve Young's name and number.

His outfit was accessorized with a piece of jaunty Chicago Bulls headgear complete with plastic horns mounted on a red skullcap.

"It was great. I'd definitely do it again," said Klingel, who ran in the second heat that saw run organizers release three different groups of bulls to the packs of runners.

"That really got my ticker going," he said. "Everything was coming out of the dust and it was so thick you could hardly see."

But Klingel, who was packing a camera and looking for one of those Kodak moments, stood in front of a group of onrushing bulls and held his ground - waiting until the bulls got about 20 feet away before he snapped the shutter and ducked out of harm's way.

For some folks, like 45-year-old Californian Jeffrey Rath, the run was deja vu American style.

Rath is one of several experienced bull runners who have been to Pamplona and decided to come to Mesquite to support the first U.S. effort at what they consider to be a Spanish sport.

"It ended up a lot better than I thought it would be," said Rath, who has run at Pamplona 16 different years. "When I first heard about this, I admit I was skeptical.

"But everyone got the experience and no one got badly hurt," he added. "You couldn't have asked for anything better."

Bull run promoter Phil Immordino said that while the event probably just covered its expenses, he and sponsors from the Mesquite Resort Association will attempt to stage the event again next year if the Mesquite City Council continues its support.

Mesquite Mayor Ken Carter said that despite receiving a number of written protests from animal welfare advocates, the event had gone off with relatively few problems and no pickets or boycotts.

"We got a lot of faxes about this," he said, "but most of the animal rights people who have been against this don't even have an idea what the event is like."

News media from as far away as Germany and Spain joined national and local reporters to cover the event, and the one question runners constantly found themselves answering was: "Whatever possessed you to do this?"

The answers media members might normally expect to get out of that situation are a death wish, a strange, unexplained need to act macho and morbid curiosity.

But the real answers some participants used might be that "dark side" of human nature that encourages people to watch gangster movies and pay big bucks to watch Karl Malone tap dance with Dennis Rodman.

Not so for Rath and the veteran bull runners who are repeatedly drawn back to the narrow streets of Pamplona for the San Fermin festival. "When you're running side by side with the bulls, it feels good in here," he said, tapping his fist on his chest cavity. "It kind of purifies you."

And then there are a few people like Jerry Hudson of Mesquite, a retired trucker, who falls into the "better gored than bored" set.

"I need to find something exciting to do in this town," Hudson said. "A lot of the people in Mesquite are against this, but they're just fuddy duddies."

If Hudson was looking to spice up his life, the bull run certainly filled the bill. "I've been running all my life, and I usually run about 10 miles every other day," he said. "But this time it's different - I'll have to sprint."