Many of the people who step into the street in Pamplona, Spain, to run with bulls fail to suspend their imaginations. They think about being gored. They think about being gutted by a horn. They fall apart.
I’m just back from my third trip to run with the bulls—the San Fermin festival in Pamplona finishes this week. My first run in 2007 went like this. (I wrote about this and much more in my book The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide.)
Each of us stood alone in an anxious crowd. There were so many of us filling the narrow street in Pamplona I had to turn my shoulders and push against the other runners to move. We were all wearing white clothes with red sashes and bandanas bought from street vendors in the small city. The veteran runners sashes and bandanas were washed-out red and they had patches sewn on them and shiny pins of bulls and runners clustered over them like Boy Scout bandanas. Most of the people in the street had new and clean red bandanas and sashes.
Morning sunlight was touching the tops of five- and six-story buildings that rise up like walls along the narrow streets in this ancient city built on a plateau in the Pyrenees. At each floor above the first are balconies. These were overloaded with people also dressed in white and red, though the people on them had blood and wine, not fear, in their eyes.
Outside the packed street music was building and falling as marching bands moved down the canyon streets closer, then away twisting with the curving byways back into the city founded by Romans.
The bulls run every morning at 8 a.m. for eight days in a row. You have to get in the street before 7:30 a.m., as that’s when the police close the entrances through the wooden barricades to the narrow streets where the bulls run. You think about when you’ll begin to run. Mostly you stand and wait. Thirty minutes is a long time to ponder riding the horns. It had almost been thirty minutes already.
Each minute loudspeakers hung up and down the street were doing a countdown to the planned stampede. They were giving advice in Spanish, English, and French: “If you are knocked down. Stay down. Don’t stand up in front of a bull….”