The Running of the Bulls, as it is known to the Spanish people and the runners who choose to take part , is called the Encierro.
It is the tradition and the way in which the fighting bulls travel into the city and to the bullring during the Fiesta de San Fermin on the day of their fight.
The bulls we ran with were from the Valdefresno ranch. It is a great honor for a ranch to be chosen to participate during the fiesta. Statistics are kept on each ranch’s bull size, as well as the ranch’s average course run time. Each bull is introduced on the big screen in the Plaza de Toros by name, weight and birth year prior to the run. This is Their Day.
But it does not stop in Pamplona’s Plaza. Across Spain for the duration of the Fiesta de San Fermin, the run is broadcast each morning on public television. The eyes of a nation are on this ancient city in the middle of the province of Navarre
What is so very important to understand in all of this is that as the sun rises and the bulls are released, they do not run for the people. The people run for the bulls.
A sea of white and red, there is no personal glory in becoming an anonymous member of the herd.
As the sun rises, you had better be running.
JULY 8, 2013
8:30 PM – We arrive at our hotel, check-in and announce that we have decided to move our run up a day, so that we can run the next morning. A three-hour train ride through the Spanish Hills in a car packed with other Americans on the chase has convinced us that this is a more appropriate course of action than The Original Plan. The Original Plan being that we would watch the run on our first morning in Pamplona to really get a feel for how things go.
We (along with our friends and fellow runners Mike and Chris) agree not to tell anyone back home that the plan has changed until after the run.
9:30 PM – Clad in the white and red sourced in the month prior to our sojourn, we enter Pamplona proper by bus. We are overwhelmed by the stench of vomit, urine and body odor. Thousands of people pack the streets in a mad crush. Some are parading. Some are dancing. Many are covered in sangria. Everyone is drinking.
To really pare it down, essentially the only things that you can easily purchase in Pamplona during the fiesta are as follows:
- The Outfit (sash, scarf, shirt and pants)
- Ham sandwiches (bacon, jamon, straight country ham – they do not discriminate)
- Bottles of wine and hard liquor
- 40s of beer
- Plastic jugs of sangria
- Tap beer
9:45 PM – Armed with a map and a few bottles of wine, we walk the course of the Encierro. Which is to say that we wander the streets filled with our fellow revelers. We observe that some of the wooden barriers stay up for the duration of the festival, but most will be put up/taken down in the morning.
10:00 PM – We meet a man and his new wife on their honeymoon who have already participated in the run twice. They tell us everything they know, which can be distilled into the following sentence: Start at the head of the course and move down.
Do not show up late.
Between this, a few blog posts and a documentary, we are essentially clothed in knowledge.
11:00 PM – We arrive back at our hotel in time to watch the massive nightly fireworks display from our balcony. If you think you have seen bigger, no. Just as the day starts with the launch of a rocket, so does it end.
JULY 9, 2013
4:45 AM – We awake. I accessorize.
5:45 AM – We leave the hotel and head into the city.
6:15 AM – We arrive in Pamplona proper.
The city is as lively at this hour as it was when we departed the evening before.
We start walking up-course and find ourselves in front of the bullpen after purchasing cups of coffee that can only be described as Tragic. Did not expect this.
We spend the next hour talking with other English speakers who are similarly clueless. Because each time we open our mouths, We Are Known. Really old Spanish men smoking cigarettes start to materialize. Marcus purchases newspapers for the group and a man counsels me, in Spanish via his English-speaking grandson about the dangers of women running in the Encierro.
Only 6% of the runners who participate in the Encierro are female.
7:00 AM – Street sweeping commences. We can’t see the carpentieros completing the construction of the wooden barriers along the course because of our location, but this means that the course is now clear of all non-runners. One man pulls half of a beer bottle out from a crack in the wall behind me with a pair of tongs. His crew is followed by another wielding leaf blowers and still another with hoses.
7:30 AM – They place the statue of San Fermin in the elevated grotto directly in front of us. Apparently he is kitted out with plastic flowers and candelabras. This is really not the position we want to be holding for the run.
7:45 AM – After a lengthy and sporadic wide-eyed stay-or-go discussion, I break the stalemate and lead us down course to Calle de Estafeta, which is after Dead Man’s Curve. I choose a shop entrance to position myself in. Marcus stands in front of me along the wall. Mike and Chris move further down Estafeta so they can guarantee an entrance into Plaza de Toros.
8:00 AM – The first rocket is launched and very quickly followed by the launch of a second rocket. This is a festival of fireworks. The bulls are out. The crowd begins to run immediately. We hold.
8:01 AM – After an unbearable amount of waiting and holding the line, we can hear the bulls’ hooves. The steers’ bells. The screams of people. Marcus starts running.
8:01:12 AM – As the bulls thunder down the street not five feet away from me, two men trip and suddenly there is a mountain of 20 men, all curled up in the fetal position directly in front of my perch. There is some irony in the fact that after all of this reading-up about falling down, I find myself walled-in.
I hit them with my newspaper, yelling You Are Safe. No Bulls. One man has lost a contact. How.
8:01:40 AM – I find Marcus and it is just pure joy. I shoot some video of him post-run. We see people hurling past us down Estafeta and are confused. Until we hear the bells. The rest of the herd. Now we run without thinking, following the bulls and steers to the entry chute to Plaza de Toros. As they pass through and we move aside, it is a blur.
At 8:02:29 it is ended.
The streets are open. The day has only started.
As I was doing a bit of research on our run, I found the footage of our run from ¡Viva San Fermin!
And for all of the photos that we t0ok, for the ones that will truly leave you breathless, The Atlantic’s Photo Stream.