PAMPLONA, Spain (KTUU) Editor's note: Originally published August 6, 2014
It started around 7:00 a.m. when Pamplona city workers started building a double wooden fence along the area’s nearly 1,000-yard course that stretches from the streets of the old quarter to the bullring.
Concerned about missing the opportunity to run with the bulls on the final day of San Fermin, I showed up around 6:00 a.m. It was my third day in Pamplona, Spain, but my first attempt at taking part in a tradition that dates back generations.
For months I had been planning my trip to Spain, centered on the running of the bulls in Pamplona. On Monday, the final day of San Fermin, I decided that I would tempt fate and revel in the madness that has claimed 15 lives since 1924.
It’s now about 7:30 a.m. and I’m standing in what can only be described as a holding pin for humans, 200 yards away from raging bulls. The thought of what could happen in only a matter of minutes began to sink in.
It didn’t help that everyone around me had made the run before, and they began to show me scars and tell me that I was crazy for wanting to run. I spoke with one photojournalist from the national station in Spain, he told me that he’d been taking photos for 15 years and that with all he has seen there is no way he would ever take part in the timeless tradition. To make matters worse, the city of Pamplona decided to play a video on repeat that showed runners getting gored by bulls as they ran through the city's streets.
Despite cooler heads and perhaps sound judgment, I decided that I had come too far to back out. Just a few minutes before 8 a.m., the police began releasing us from our holding pen and ordering us to claim our position along the course. While walking, the policía began grabbing runners and pulling them from the street. From what I could tell, it was because the people were most likely in no shape to run after a long night of partying.
I took my position based on advice from several veterans of the run. They advised that I stay away from the corners because the bulls, that on average, weigh around 1,500 pounds, would often make wide turns as they slipped on the cobble stone streets.
I decided to take my chances on a long straight away, about 500 yards from the bullring. As I stood waiting for 8 a.m. to come, calmness came over me. I had come to peace with the fact that whatever would happen was meant to be. That calm lasted about two minutes when I heard what can only be described as a gunshot, signaling that the bulls had been released from their pen.
Starting my run about mid-way through the course, I looked anxiously for signs of the bulls. Though, as soon as the first gunshot sounded, it became clear when the dozens of people around me began to lose their collective minds.
The best way to describe the scene leading up to when I saw the first bulls was panic followed by pure terror.
The sight of these massive beasts rumbling toward you is indescribable. As soon as I saw the first group, I began to run.
I ran faster than I’ve ever run in my entire life. Within a few steps the bulls were within arm’s length away. I could see directly into the eyes of the animals and despite being so close, there was a sense of calm that came over me. I felt as if nothing else in the world mattered, as if life, for a moment, stopped and all I could focus on was the here and the now.
I ran parallel to the bulls for about 50 yards before they passed me by, at that time the euphoria of not dying had begun to sink in. I can’t express how alive I felt at that moment.
Though, as amazing as that moment was, being about 100 yards away from a bullring filled with thousands of screaming fans, I quickly noticed that there were more bulls coming.
In the beginning, I was under the impression there were only six bulls running. I was wrong. As I turned and looked behind me, my jog turned into a full-on sprint. I had entered a portion of the track that was not only narrow, but provided no room for escape.
I was about 20 yards from the bullring when the first bull passed me. Not knowing any better, I kept running, and just as I could see the daylight of the bullring, I noticed I was inches away from several bulls.
In that moment, one of the bulls sent me flying into the wall. I managed to stay on my feet, despite a few bumps, bruises and a little blood as I careened off the wall, I entered the bullring.
That feeling of sheer terror was soon followed by unbridled joy. To think that I had just cheated death and done something that few people ever dare to do made me feel alive.
It was a euphoric feeling that I truly cannot describe. One that I will say has definitely changed me for the better, and one that has set the bar for any future endeavor.
Though I realize running with the bulls in Pamplona isn’t for everyone, this experience was life-changing for me, and I urge anyone and everyone to take a chance, roll that dice, and just live.