Them: You’re going for San Fermin.
Them: Are you running?
Me: Why else would I go?
Them: (not answering my question because clearly there was no answer) Be careful.
So we went. Flying first to Barcelona (that was the cheap flight) and spending a very brief night with an old friend we boarded a bus the next day for Pamplona. We arrived in the evening, after the opening festivities, and felt as though we’d missed the entire party. Everywhere we looked were people dressed in all white with only a red neck-scarf and belt. Many were covered in sangria and were already leaving town. We quickly purchased some overpriced apparel and were on our way.
Sitting down at the home of our host we were basically given a primer in running with the bulls; which parts of the course were more dangerous, which better for viewing, and which easier to survive for another day. We learned that last year someone died, but that death is actually quite rare for the event, and that it was important to be well-rested and sober. It was already midnight, one person in the house was filling an “exterminators” spray bucket with sangria and setting off for the night. Others were turning in so that they could wake up at 3am to get to a good viewing area. Only one of that foursome was planning to run.
In the end we woke up at 6am and within an hour I found myself in the ‘path of the bulls’ ….with time to spare. I set to walking around and trying to make myself comfortable in the cool morning air. Walking toward where the run began I found more space as this was the safer, and therefore less exciting area to be in. At this point in the run the bulls are mostly together and sprinting forward having not yet come to their first corner where they might lose the group, become disoriented, or slip while turning. Any of those situations can become dire rather quickly. I watched as bands played music, old men danced, young men performed stretches and other ‘primadonna’ type rituals, and women laughed and joked from the balconies.
Soon it was time to get excited. A noise came from the front and tons of people started running…..even though there was at least 10 minutes left before go-time. Same thing happened again at 5 minutes. People wanted to get further down the track for their chance to enter the bullring I suppose; or maybe they were just stupid and thought the bulls were running after them. Men at the front began to chant a song that I couldn’t understand while striking their rolled up newspapers in the air. There was a rocket blast, cheering, more running, a first glimpse of bulls, then pandemonium.
I stood waiting to see the bulls as people around me started running at all out sprints. Several knocked into me but I somehow managed to hold my ground despite my injured foot. When I finally saw the bulls running, I finally began to run, taking elbows from fellow runners as they bulled off ‘through me’ to the side with the bulls still 20 or 30 meters away. During this, I too began to make my way toward the side of the street to let the bulls run past me and I’m sure I probably threw and elbow or two as well. Then the bulls ran past, at a full gallop, far to fast for any man save Usain Bolt to keep up with. Below is a video of the run the day I participated:
With the bulls past already, it really did last only a mere instant, I didn’t really know what to do so I kept running/walking in a somewhat forward direction. Eventually I heard the now familiar sound of a cowbell and knew that some others were coming and indeed they were and did. This grouping of bulls seemed to miss the memo titled ‘Running with the Bulls’ as they were merely trotting yet still dangerous all the same. With them past people joined together in that same forward motion, looking over their shoulders the entire time, and began to sing ‘ole, ole, ole, ole, ole, ole.’ (It sounds better when you sing it, doesn’t it?) I made it all 850 meters to the bullring, which was already closed, and then left the street to go meet Jill at our meeting place.
It may have only lasted a matter of seconds, but I ran with the bulls.
Now enjoy this video from last year. The man who is absolutely destroyed by the bull not only lived, but ran again this year…he’s a local.