VIVA SAN FERMIN, PAMPLONA AND THE RUNNING OF THE BULLS!
I just arrived at my hotel in Pamplona and already the craziness of the festival is all around. I was hoping that last night I would get a good nights sleep on my last day in Madrid but I got 4 new roommates in my hostel, and it turns out they are 4 American guys in law school at Oklahoma State and they planned on doing the run also. So I helped them get bus tickets on the same bus as me (saving them about $80 each) and we started chatting away. I showed them the tips the guy gave me and i showed them some of my videos from the bull fight and we decided that we would try to do the run together as they are staying the same days as me. As for how I feel, its a good mix between nervous and excited. I got stuck with the front seat on the 5.5 hour bus ride to Pamplona so I kept seeing the signs saying “Pamplona 150” “Pamplona 100” “Pamplona 40” “Pamplona 5”... Each time i saw the sign, i got
more nervous. Then I remind myself that the next few days is what started my whole trip. I was thinking about a trip, wanted to do running with the bulls due to all the events in my life the last few years, and my trip just grew from there. As we pulled into Pamplona, I was amazed by EVERYONE wearing white pants, white shirts, red bandanas and a red sash. I arrived about 3 hours after the opening ceremony and already there are people passed out on lawns and camping in the train station. About half of the peoples shirts are already a light red from the opening ceremony when people just dump sangria, wine or water from the balconies over the crowds below. This trend continues throughout the week long festival. Its for this reason I bought a pair of sandals to wear so I dont have to do the run in a pair of wet sticky shoes. I also am not breaking out my Wheres Waldo outfit till the run so it doesnt get ruined.
Right now we are exactly 12 hours before the first run at 8am. As of now my plan is to check
out the route tonight with the Americans I met and come up with what we are going to do. First I should explain what I am hoping to do and get out of the actual run before reveling my plan of action. The first time I heard about it, i knew it was something I was going to do before i died. I know how dangerous it is, but I don’t care. My goal for the run is to actually be one of the ones that runs along side the bull for 5-10 second and to touch the side of the bull while doing it. By doing this, it is supposed to show your bravery and “manhood” above all others. While that would be nice, its not always possible as many things can happen that are out of your control that prevents you from doing this. That being said, my plan of action as of now is to do the first run and more or less sticking to the sidelines just to get a feel of the other runners and the part of the course I will choose. The problem is the first run is usually the one that has
about 5,000 more runners than the rest. This basically makes it more dangerous since the people cause most of the injuries which occur. However, if i see my opportunity to complete my goal on the first run, I will take it and just watch and enjoy the next few days. Thats what I hope will happen. If not, I will run again the second day and try again. Either way, I am not planning on running the 3rd day as I am meeting my friend Sarah in Greece 2 days after and if i get hurt, she will kill me (and I’m kinda more afraid of her than the bulls).
The first order of business after arriving at the bus station was to get some of the traditional clothes. Since there isn’t much variety on the white pants, that was easy to buy and costs around 7-8 euros (roughly $10). There is a ton of variety on the shirts, sash and bandanas so I picked up two bandanas for 3 euros each ($4). While I am starving, due to the drunk crowds and the fact i still have my backpack on, I decided to check into my hotel
first (turns out it was a bad move since by the time i checked in, no food places are open till 9pm when the spanish begin to eat). After over four months of offering every person i meet a chance to stay with me for free all 3 nights here (a $1,000 value) if they are willing to wake up early and try to take pictures of me doing the run with my camera, I finally found a taker when I was in Malaga, Spain. Her name is Jessie and she is from Australia. Although I only talked to her face to face for about 10 minutes, she wanted to come for the festival but couldn't book anything in time so she had cancelled it from her trip till she met me. I did have a few other people that said they are going to try, but nobody serious got back to me.
So after Jessie arrived, we jumped on a bus back to the city center and went on search through the massive waves of red and white to find food. We did find a ham and cheese sub that was delicious. As we were eating and
getting a late start on the drinking the fireworks for the night started which was a nice touch. Afterward we started to just walk around to get a feel for the city which was also fun. I did buy a sash finally which i feel is too long so i might buy another before the race. The night ended for us at around 1am cause I wanted to get at least a few hours sleep before the run.
July 7th - Day Two:
Woke up at 4am, took a quick shower before i started getting real excited about what i will be doing soon. Threw on my wheres waldo top as well as the rest of the get-up, tied my shoes real tight, took a few photos, and i was off to wait for the bus to the old city. Since it was still early, the bus only comes once an hour and of course it was late. However, while waiting for the bus and chain smoking at this point cause the excitement quickly turned to nerves I started chatting with some of the other people around me. Turns out there is an American
couple that went to the same college as me in Ohio but the guy said he wasn’t going to be running. Next came two Australian guys who were already drinking at this point and they were going to run for the first time. About 4 other australian guys joined us and we all decided to try and do the run together, I even convinced the other american. We finally arrived somewhat close at 6:40am but nobody knew where the bloody thing was. When we were walking around looking, I started getting really excited and for the first time in while felt NO nerves about it. By the time we found the course though it was 7am and it was already packed. Officially, they say all runners must be on the course by 7:30 and this is where my luck, or actually in this case, my stupid got me in trouble.
We finally saw one of the spots where the runners are allowed in. First two of the australians went in and i was right behind them. The second i got in a did a few excited jumps up and down when i noticed the american right behind me
got stopped. The police were now blocking the entrance and pushing everyone back. Since i am really by myself, i should have said fuck it and just found a spot i wanted to run. But i saw the two australians in front of me went back and I decided to ask the cops if the rest of my group can get on. This is when i started getting pushed by a different set of cops off the course. It turns out since this was the first day, there are roughly 5,000 more runners and they already are over the limit. I didnt know it at the time, but the cops were told they have to start taking runners off the course, and tourist are the first to go. So as the cops are pushing me i started arguing that i was already through and started trying to squeeze my way back on when they started pushing much harder. The next thing i know they had about 50 more people that were already on being pushed off. I felt bad cause one guy said he was there since 4:15am and was only here for the one run. So after a few
more attempts and the start of the run approaching we gave up at this spot and tried to find another entrance.
All of the entrances were blocked and by this point, EVERY spot to view the run was taken. Somehow we split up and the two australians that were drinking and I found a spot that was guarded only by one cop. I said lets all throw our money together and see if he would take a bribe. Together we had about 110 euros and i walked up to the cop, and with my best puppy dog eyes and the wad of cash tried to convince him to let us on. While i do think he thought about it for half a second, he quickly said no. Now we were stuck 10 minutes before the run in the crowd near the starting line. We gave up hope of running today and i was devastated. I already mentally prepared myself and was ready to run for my life. Luckily, I am here a total of 3 nights so i have 2 other chances. We did find a spot where we could somewhat see a small section of the run,
near the starting line. There was a group of Australian girls right in front of us up against the fence. The next thing you know you hear the runners doing the prayer to San Fermin about 5 minutes before the start. I look down at my watch and it was 7:58 when out of nowhere i see someone climb the fence near me and drop at least 15 feet to the street below so he could run. Pretty dangerous since the bulls are released in less than a minute and if he would have twisted his ankle or anything, he would be fucked. The two australians and i look at each other and asked the girls to move cause we were going to do the same. The second I started to climb, a group of local guys grabbed me by my shirt and threw me backward, the same with the Aussies. Oh well it was worth a shot.
So I was forced to watch the run from a raised sidewalk right next to the starting line. Since the first section of the run is uphill, i had to watch the top of the hill around 100 yards from
me and I could barely see anything. About 40 seconds after the run started, the bulls were around the first corner already and the crowd near me started to disperse. All of the sudden you hear tons of shouting from along the path. I look up to see a bull running back towards the starting line. I did my research and watched tons of videos before deciding i wanted to do the run, and while it isn’t that uncommon a bull gets turned around, normally they dont run more than a few seconds backward before being turned around. This bull ran all the way back to the start! This is EXTREMELY dangerous cause when a bull is by himself, he is panicked and gores people and after the herd goes by, the runners stop looking behind them. It was only later did i find out why this bull was turned around and it was the fault of the workers on “dead mans turn.” In recent efforts to prevent this from happening, the organizers created a gate to be closed on this turn after all the bulls go by. The workers miscounted the bulls and closed the gate, trapping the runners
with a bull charging behind them. You can watch it on this guys youtube video (
). In the end, it was actually a pretty low number of injuries on this run. In some ways i was glad i couldn’t do it the first day cause i got a feel of what to expect and how many runners are there. But nothing was going to stop me from doing the next run. One of the down sides though of not running is now i cant really drink and party tonight cause I have to be up by 3:15am to get to the run earlier. So after the run, I attended the parade that brings the statue of San Fermin back to the church, took a siesta, got up at 9pm and started drinking till about 1am.
July 8th - Day Three:
Despite all my excitement, i had a hard time getting up and slept through my soft watch alarm. Luckily, Jessie set her phone alarm and we both quickly threw on our all whites (and my waldo top) and headed to the bus by 4. Two minutes later, the two australians from yesterday were there also getting an early start. Once again, we joined up. Our plan was to get Jessie a great spot to film the run and the 3 of us guys were going to just stand at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (the second section of the course). I decided that my plan for the run was to start right at the top of the first section (Santa Domingo) and to start running when the bulls were about 20 yards from me. This way i will run wide on the first curve at Plaza del Ayuntamiento and hopefully the bulls will pass me right before the 90 degree, Curva de Estafeta. Jessie was one of the first to claim her spot so she was right before Curva de Estafeta and if timed right, would be able to get me on video as long as I stayed to the right. Once the bulls make the turn, I planned to jump out and join her cause if I made that turn, i would have to run the rest of the route with no exit points.
My mindset at this point is “I dont care if i have to punch a cop, i am running today no matter what.” *As a sidenote, later we learned that due to the number of runners growing each year, there are certain areas you have to stand and wait along the course, whereas previously you could wait anywhere on the course. This is why we were kicked off yesterday. So we started to wait from 4:30am to the run which starts at 8. The street was packed with people still partying. We got something to eat and drink at a shop nearby and just started talking. At about 6am the workers start going through the streets cleaning them up and spraying them down. At 6:30 they started setting up the wood barriers. I was thrown off by the size of these barriers since in videos you see people jumping through them like they are nothing. I know i can’t make the jump over them, if i had to i would have to go through the gaps. Chances are if I get injured, it would be hitting my head on the wood trying to get through them and knocking myself out cold. At this point, i tried not to think of all the bad things that could happen. “Positive Mental Attitude” a wise person told me. Quickly, more and more people started packing into the runners area. We are all talking with each, sharing what we learned from other peoples tips. There were about 12 of us talking, but the others planned to start running with the first rocket so they can get into the bull ring after. I wanted to do the run how the guy explained to me in Seville. Soon I was surrounded by roughly 1,000 people and by this point we are all joking with each and laughing, you never would have known that we are about to be running for our lives. I heard all types of jokes including a knock on the French, “What if it was a French bull and decided to just surrender and walk home.” Luckily, there were no French around. Most of the tourist around me were Australian, American, a handful of British, and one asian guy that didn’t speak much English.
At roughly 7:15 the runners start to get pumped up. You hear all types of chants and clapping. The news crews in their towers are getting into it. You know everyone around you is nervous and excited but hardly anyone shows it. The hot spanish news ladies are on the balcony above us giving live updates while the crowd chants comments to them. We really shouldnt have picked the spot to wait right under a giant clock. 7:30... 7:45. The last 15 minutes flew by, mostly people stretching and trying to warm up since we have been standing still and its 50 degrees out. They let the runners spread out some so all the people i knew left to get as close to the bull arena as possible but I was already standing in the spot I wanted so i just had to keep my ground. You see the cops starting to kick the people that look or act drunk out. Next anyone with a camera gets the boot. At this point, i wouldn’t speak to anyone cause if they are kicking the tourist out i wanted to blend in. 7:50, the rules are read over the loud speaker starting with “This is dangerous, if you do not want to do it, leave now.” 7:55... the prayer to San Fermin is being sung by the runners. “Viva Viva Viva.” Everyone is now jumping up and down and the crowd starts getting loud. The anticipation was nothing i have ever felt before. I had a rolled up newspaper in my hand (if we want to touch the bulls, you should only do it with a newspaper. Its also used to distract the bulls if you are ever in trouble cause bulls follow movements). Suddenly, the first rocket explodes overhead. The bulls have been released...
What the fuck am I doing. I am waiting at a top of a hill for bulls to come chase me. I had the biggest smile for about 13 second as the bulls were coming up the hill. Some people are already sprinting by me but i wanted to hold my ground. Suddenly, the cop standing along the fence by me pushed me forcing me to start running. That was the last thing i wanted was to run to early, so i just started walking a little while jumping up and down to see if i could see the bulls, only people. The noise from inside was so loud and intense. I had a feeling the bulls were close but I started getting swept away by a group of 6’3 250 pound guys. NOOO!!!! I was fighting to get to the inside with my elbows while trying to stay on the right. I slowed up a little (actually a big no no cause I could have been putting other runners in trouble by causing a back-up) but even at a light jog, i was running into people in front of me. Somehow over the crowd noise, I heard bells. I turn my head and two of the bulls are running by me about 3-4 feet away but one of those big guys is now running directly into me trying to get out. I look ahead of me for one second and see someone ahead of me as fallen. I look back again and see a bull on the far left side of the herd attempt to jump over someone else that fell but didn’t make it and ran right on him. At this point, I did think of jumping out and touching one but due to the big guy on my left pushing me, i couldnt see if there was a bull right behind him that i would be jumping into. All the bulls passed by me on the small street Ayuntamiento right before dead mans corner. At this point i slowed up big time but i was right against the fence so i wouldn’t mess anyone up. The workers had once again stopped the runners from making the turn around the corner cause they would have to close the gate. This is were the mistake from the day before happened. All of the sudden, a massive pileup of runners were now at this gate, I am on the right side very close to were Jessie was filming. Someone had fallen down right in front of me so I treid to stop and avoid trampling him, but i think i accidentally kicked him cause people were pushing into me. I tried to take a look through the fence for her (caught on tape) but i didn’t see her. I should have tried to climb out at this point but the next thing i knew, i was pushed up against the fence by everyone around me. With all my adrenaline going, i forgot one important rule. ALWAYS ASSUME ANOTHER BULL IS STILL BEHIND YOU. And wouldn’t you know it, 2 more bulls coming running at us and all the runners are now trying to get as close to the fence as possible. I quickly tried to duck out in between cause I couldnt actually see the bulls, all i saw were 15-20 people charging at me with a terrified look. But i got one leg out when the pressure was to much for me to get my body out so i quickly brought my leg back in. Someone nearby reaching for the fence kinda ended up slamming his arm into my nose accidentally, and held it there for about 5-10 seconds as the last two bulls ran by. The second the pileup loosened, I jumped through the gate and saw Jessie and her friend there. I check my nose to make sure it wasn’t bleeding when that feeling you just did something great hit me. This was one of my top life goals for over 15 years and i just fucking ran with the bulls.
It turns out though that the bulls passed me more in a blind section but you see the bulls running by on her video and me slowing up about 4 seconds later. I will try and get it posted. I also am checking you tube for other peoples videos and while you can’t clearly see my face, you can see my where’s waldo shirt in some. There were some other runners wearing similar shirts and one of them was directly on the other side of the bulls from where i was. People have been writing me thinking it was me, but i wish it was cause he had a good run. After i jumped through the gate i saw that my right leg was scraped up in two spots and a bruise was forming a little higher up. I honestly have no idea when any of this happened but I think someone accidentally kicked me. After meeting up with Jessie and her friend, we started to walk toward the bull arena to watch the next tradition when they release “smaller” and younger bulls with padded balls around their horns into crowds of runners on the arena floor. This is not as dangerous as the actual run cause you don’t have to really worry about being gored but this is where many people break bones due to trampling. I would say about 90% of the people that start running right off the bat, are just trying to get to the arena to do this part only. However, if you run into the packed arena before the bulls, the crowd throws stuff at you and the locals are standing by the entrance to piss on ya. Luckily, I had no desire to participate in this since i still have a lot of traveling ahead of me. On the walk over there we did pass several of the medics still working on the injured runners. One guy seem to have gotten it in the face but was bleeding so much i couldnt really tell how bad it was. We did get to the arena and watched the smaller bulls running into tourists trying to show off. You must remember that this is a tradition here in spain and they respect the bulls and will not stand for ANYONE disrespected the bulls or their traditions. Most of the people down there just want to grab the bulls tail or horn, the ultimate sign of disrespect, and once they do, the locals beat the shit out of them, as you will be able to tell in some of my videos. The crowd cheers when someone disrespects the bull and the bull turns and runs him over. Their was one guy that waited for the last bull to get real tired and then tried to jump on the bulls back and ride him. Normally, if you grab the bulls tail or horn you will get 3 or 4 punches in the face by a few locals. This guy had roughly 50 locals surround him and start beating him until the police were able to get in there and save him and eventually arrest him. It was fun to watch either way.
I know i didn’t get to complete my goal of touching the bulls as i actually ran with them, I dont think there was a point i ever ran faster than a regular jog but i was on the shortest section, although a very dangerous one as its the only one with turns. When my adrenaline started coming down about a half hour later, i was kinda disappointed with my run. This was the type of run I expected to do on the first day just to get a feel of what it would be like, but i got kicked off. I didn’t expect i would be pushed around so much and I felt like it was much harder to see a run path than you would expect by watching videos of past runs. I thought about running on the third day but since I still have a long trip ahead of me and i leave Pamplona a few hours after the run ends I am making the smart choice and not doing it right now. I will most definitely come back as I would love to do the run each year till i’m one of the pros showing my battle wounds. When i run it again, i will start after the dead man’s corner (the part with no escape points) cause you have more of an opportunity to actually run along with the bulls, they were going by too fast where i was. I absolutely loved this experience, it was everything I hoped it would be, most of my actual feeling i wouldnt know how to describe or if i even remember them as every second they are changing and your mind is going crazy telling you to get out of there while you force yourself to stay. I ran on July 8th, 2011 and while it was considered a fast run cause most of the bulls stayed together and finished the course faster than average (they finished in 3 minutes 10 seconds and the average is closer to 3:45-4), several people got hurt including one that is still fighting for his life the day after. He is an Australian that taunted the bull (another sign of disrespect) right before the bull was locked up. The bull suddenly turned around and slammed him against the ground and proceeded to gore him before the former matadors distracted the bull long enough for others to pull the guy out. The bull ended up goring his right thigh and leg and hitting his right femoral artery. The guy is lucky that the city had surgeons on staff at the bull ring for these rare cases where arteries are hit. They preformed surgery in the bull ring’s medical center before getting him to the hospital. The last I heard is he is still alive and they believe he will make it, but still in very serious condition. Six other runners were hurt enough to be sent to the hospital - two Americans, another Australian, a Briton, an Italian, and a Spaniard but all were released the same day. 4 runners were hurt on the first run, none serious. If anyone enjoys my story and is interested in doing the run and experiences the great San Fermin festival, let me know, i will join you!
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