running with the bulls in pamplona
After a coffee and a roll, we approach the pen. It’s 7am on Sunday the 8th. It’s full of prospective runners wearing white shirts, white pants, red bandanas, and red sashes. Chris enters.
Me: I thought…aren’t we going to watch today and run tomorrow?
He disappears in the masses.
Mike: I don’t know about this.
Me: Me neither. I’d planned to watch the first day and go when it’s not as crowded–after the first weekend.
Policia: *pushes us toward the pen*
Mike: Looks like we’re going!
Me: Let’s stay near the fence. We can always climb over and get out before the run starts if need be.
We’re “nuts to butts” with several hundred. Many are obviously still up from the previous night’s party. We turned in at 11:30pm and slept til 6:30am. I’m starting to feel good about our odds. After all, I’ve trained for this.
There’s a girl from Australia named Jen to my lower right. A girl from Ireland is to my upper right. A Hispanic woman is to my lower left. She appears to be praying.
Otherwise, it’s guys. The ages vary widely. Balconies start to fill up with onlookers, cameras in hand. It’s 7:30. 30 minutes until the run.
Mike: They’re going to come up from behind us, right?
Me: Yep. The start is a couple hundred meters that direction.
Mike: And dead man’s corner?
Me: Should be ahead…but I’m not sure how far.
Mike: But isn’t that where we want to be before the bulls catch us?
Me: Yes. This is non-negotiable. I wonder
Voice From The Masses: It’s about 100 meters up.
Me: Okay, cool. We’ll be okay.
At 7:50, the fence penning us is pulled back. Mike and I lock arms like square dancing partners and shuffle forward with the masses. We see the sharp right turn at Estafeta — dead man’s corner — and stop at the right side, inside the corner. The cops push us forward.
Mike: How much time we got?
Me: Bulls will be released at 8. We’ll hear a rocket when they’re released, and then? Watch for the flashing cameras from the balconies above and haul ass.
BOOM! Rocket sounds. Many begin running. We continue to walk.
Me: Wait for the second rocket–that signals the last bull’s exit from the pen.
BOOM! More sprinters pass. We continue to walk.
Mike: Where should we stop?
Safety Person From Other Side Of Fence: No stopping!
Me: We don’t. Estafeta widens a bit just ahead. That’s our spot.
Activity above us on the balconies. Flashes. Cheers. The ground shakes. Cowbells chime as they swing from the necks of the brown herding bulls that lead the black fighting ones.
Runners all around. A brown bull passes us, about 7 feet to our left. Then a black bull. Bulls! Running bulls! We run alongside. They pass us, staying together as a herd. No worries.
Traffic jam. We stop. Bodies down in front before the arena. Standing for 30 seconds.
The crowd goes forward. Running! Into the arena! Pandemonium.
Me: Break right! Bulls in the middle! Get to the right!
Voice: Fuck yeah! We made it! We fucking ran with the bulls and made it to the arena! *high fives*
Chris: There y’all are! We fucking did it! How great was that? Let’s get a picture!
We exchange “where were you when they passed?” stories.
I turn off the iphone that recorded my run (the bulls pass us at 1:15). It’s here (only audio, as police forbade my recording every time I tried):
We relax and laugh and get to know our fellow runners.
Bodies shoved at us, pushing us toward the wall of the arena. A bull is charging!
We scramble over the wall and into the stands. Deep breath.
I have survived running with the bulls of Pamplona.