We have arrived in Pamplona, Spain to run with bulls.
It’s our family vacation this summer and the run was supposed to be the main event. We checked into our hotel, met some over-privileged college kids from Washington and went down to walk the half mile course.
By the time we got there, the run was over for the day and the party has begun. We walked the half mile course that was now filled with partiers. My mom’s boyfriend almost got pick pocketed too.
Apparently, it is a big problem during the event and police are brought on just to spot the opportunistic thieves. Someone bent over in front of him and when he stopped another person reached into his pocket. He swiped the guys arm, then he and the decoy (bent over guy) took off running.
So, we ate some dinner at a sort of Italian restaurant. Sort of because it’s name was the only thing Italian about it — something like La Mafia Familia.
We went to the hotel, lay down, and here came the nerves. I watched a couple videos on the run and read tips from veteran runners.
I discovered the first and last section were where you are statistically the most likely to be gored. I also found out that the second section — all of these have names by the way — was one of the safer areas. People who ran seemed to like it because it was early on and all the bulls were still in a pack.
I decided this is where I would go.
Relief, no way. I sat up all night wondering why I was doing this. It seemed really, really stupid. I remember looking at the clock and seeing 5:45 a.m. We had to wake up at 7 a.m. to make it down for the 8 a.m. run.
Each day, for 10 days, the festival known as San Fermin starts with the bull run at 8 a.m. Then the partying all day leads up to the bullfight in the evening.
So my mom’s boyfriend, Rich, and I get up, and go figure there is no place to get coffee. I wore a sweater because I get more nervous when I am cold, although I planned to take it off for the run.
We get there and the feeling is nothing like I have ever felt before. Everyone is kind of silent, either stretching or taking selfies on their phone.
I’ll never forget this guy from Brussels smoking a cigarette and saying how he shouldn’t be doing this. A huge flat screen in my section lets me know the time, it also keeps going through the rules of running with the bulls followed by a warning, a picture of a bull horn going through a runner.
Death can occur, the board said in English, Spanish and a few other languages.
I was lucky enough to meet this American who has ran each day for the last five years. He reassured me this is a good spot. He liked it because it was one of two places to jump out along the course.
He told me not to run until you see the “Oh S***” look on people’s face. He explained a lot of people run way before the bulls come out of fear and to wait until somebody had the look of fear that conveyed they were about to get gored.
7:45 a.m. — The mayor makes her lap down the course and everyone cheers.
7:50 a.m. — Runners who paid tribute to Saint Fermin come jogging up from a tribute near the opening gate and go to their desired spot.
7:55 a.m. — The officers begin to spread out the crowd and make one last ditch effort to clear out any drunks from the night before — usually easy to spot by looking for people covered in Sangria.
7:58 a.m. — I throw my sweater over the fence and fight myself on whether or not to follow suit.
8 a.m. — A rocket is launched indicating the gate is open. I wait to hear a second, which means all six bulls and six steers have cleared the fence.
I can see on the flat screen the bulls are making their way up the hill. A few seconds later I start to see people running my way but remembered to wait for the indicator given to me. I see it, along with a bull.
I turn around and start running. I made it about 25 yards before I slid under the fence and had someone land on top of me. Cowardly.
I ran out to get back in the mix, but it was too late, they were gone. I still knew if I hurried I could make it into the bull ring. They close the gate once all the bulls and steers make it in, but I was quick enough to make it in time.
It’s was the second craziest feeling being in the bull ring. Thousands of spectators watching, hundreds of runners hugging and people, again, taking selfies.
After a couple minutes, they let out bulls with their horns covered to give the crowd a show. Runners are usually braver because of not being able to be gored.
I since I knew I ran a cowardly run, I thought I should try my luck with these guys. I realized the bull really doesn’t chase a person who is standing still. He kind of targets someone running, but will easily get sidetracked and take anyone standing by.
So, I was standing still and the bull started to chase someone my way. The guy kind of got out of the bull’s reach and he turned his attention to me. I started running away and made a quick dash to the side.
I looked back and saw him try to swipe just a few inches from my right leg. Woooo, the crowd went.
I decided not to test my luck and ran out of the bullring. I went back for my sweater, but it was gone. Along the way, I saw another outside TV with a group of people intently staring. It was a replay of the run.
At the end of the video, some numbers came up saying something like two gores and seven injuries during the run. I found out on the San Fermin website, there is a running total for gores and injuries.
I called my family and we met up at a nearby cafe. We drank coffee, ate breakfast and talked about how crazy it was.
I would repeat the craziness the next day.
Until next time,
Michael Anthony Stavola
— Michael Stavola is a staff writer at The Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MichaelStavola1.