Dressed all in white, adorned with only with flashes of red; a sash around our waists and a scarf around our neck, hundreds of us congregate early in the morning. Many of us stayed up all night, sipping sangria and nibbling on tapas making sure that we get the full San Fermin experience. I have done the research, I have seen with my own eyes the day before just what to expect, but still I pace back and forth filled with nervous energy, eager to face the challenge, eager to run.
At 7:00a the bars along the route start to close, spectators start to fill the gaps along the fence and those of us that are running begin to find our way to our chosen spots. We still have an hour before the run begins. I spend this hour walking back and forth to make sure the spot I have chosen is the best one. I nervously try to read the Spanish language newspaper I have purchased to roll up in case I need to distract the bulls during the run. This does nothing to quell my nervous energy as the local paper is filled with photos from the run the day before. Pictures of falls, the fastest run in the festival’s history and an unfortunate pantsing grace the pages of the Navarre Diario. Time passes slowly. With a half hour to go the announcements start, warning us of the danger of running first in Spanish, then English, followed by French and finally German. A few minutes later these are repeated and the spectators that have been keeping the runners company start to depart the course.
With five minutes to go the crowd and runners shush for silence. The shrine to San Fermin has been placed, candles lit and the gates to the route have been closed. As the rolled up newspapers are lifted into the air, It is time to sing. The words drift from the front of the course, the locals that run this route every year lead the way with a few of the rest of us trying to follow along. The words ask for safety from San Fermin and is repeated three time. As the first time through comes to a close it is time to find my place. I jog up the hill to the first corner, confident that I have chosen a sage starting point. Down the street, the song is repeated two more times as the sound of the first rocket draws ever closer.
Crack. The rocket is fired high into the Pamplona sky and the bulls are off. A few seconds later another crack sounds, signalling that all of the bulls are on the course. Around me the runners jump up and down a few last times, ready to take off at the first sound of hooves. A few of the people around me start to take off but it is a false start, the bulls are still a hundred meters away.
I take off around the corner as I first hear the stampede. Turning around to see where the bulls are, a fellow runner runs into me, knocking my teeth around but we both maintain our footing. A few meters later I again turn to see where the bulls are and am met with the sight of horns coming around the corner. Time to go. I take off, surrounded by other runners pushing to make sure we each stay out of the direct path of the bulls. First the horns draw even with us, quickly followed by the bodies and then they are past. I have run maybe 50 meters, been passed by the 12 bulls like I am standing still and live to tell the tale.
The day I ran with the bulls in Pamplona was the last running for the 2011 San Fermin festival. It was done with no major injuries, just the usual bloody noses, scraped knees and scuffed palms. I did not make a long run, but it was a rush, full of anticipation, adrenaline and the feeling of accomplishment. Forever more I can say that I have run with the bulls in Pamplona…and survived.