ANCHORAGE - From sausages to stews, reindeer are usually a main dish in Alaska.
But the antlered animals were the main event on Sunday at Anchorage's first annual running of the reindeer.
A cheering crowd of hundreds lined snow-packed Fourth Avenue to witness what was touted as Alaska's version of Spain's famed running of the bulls.
"Normally we just eat them," said Mark Berg, a spectator who has lived in Alaska since 1967. "I just made some jambalaya the other day out of reindeer sausage. I've eaten more of their cousins than they want to know."
Seven little reindeer, looking a bit bewildered, stood next to their handlers as a crowd of roughly 1,000 costumed runners chatted excitedly and snapped photographs of each other at the start. A conga line of antlered runners snaked through the crowd.
Organizers of the run, part of Anchorage's annual Fur Rendezvous festival, said the idea grew out of a joke. No one was exactly sure how the reindeer would respond.
"Theoretically, the reindeer will pursue the people through the streets and the people will run frantically like in Pamplona, (Spain)," said Cary Carrigan, a Fur Rondezvous board member. "Although, reindeer being what they are, they will more likely be looking for candy and treats from the crowd."
To prep the reindeer - which are really domesticated caribou - handlers staged two practice runs on the three-block course, rewarding the animals each time with apple slices.
Then they lined up the reindeer behind the first heat of runners - several hundred women in all sorts of costumes. One had taped a paper bulls-eye to her back. Others masqueraded as carrots and lichen, both favorite foods of reindeer.
At the signal to go, the reindeer stampeded into the crowd. Passing tourist shops, the downtown federal building and a stand selling reindeer hotdogs, the animals were well out in front by the halfway point.
"We thought, 'OK, they're just going to mosey along,' but they took off running," said Amanda Pelkola of Eagle River, who dressed as a carrot with her friend, Kasia Gilbert of Peters Creek. "We got smoked by the reindeer."
Michael Anderson, who was busy cooking reindeer dogs, said the event dovetailed nicely with his business.
"People can see what they're going to be eating soon," he said, nodding toward about two dozen customers waiting in front of his cart.