Goal 49 – run for your life!

I had a bit of a siesta yesterday afternoon, and in the evening headed back out with my American housemates, who were hitting the town again. I had one quick beer with them, and then made my way through the packed main square to Michael’s apartment, where I was due to be interviewed by John from BullRunning.com. John was also planning to run for the first time in the morning, and we discussed possible places to start, and tactics for survival. We pretty much came to the same conclusion as to where we might start.

After the interview, which was very easy-going and relaxed, I made my way through thronging crowds to the Cuitadela, where there is a fireworks extravaganza every evening. It is competitive, and the Italian team put on a great show.

Back at home I got a reasonably early night, along with half of my housemates, who had also finished the evening at a sensible hour. The rest of the group, however, had partied on, and at around 4.45am, were insisting on a house meeting, scheduled for 5am, from what I could gather! I don’t think anyone else made it to the meeting, and I don’t think I missed much, as it all went quiet again soon after that.

I had set my alarm for 6.15am, but was woken up at 6.35 by Nick, who was on his way out. I checked my phone, and was amazed to find, on the morning of one of my major goals, I had set my alarm for the evening, instead of morning!

I dressed in my red and white gear after a quick shower, and down in the busy main street I soon bumped into John. Before long the street was cleared of revellers and runners alike, and we were shepherded into a side street, and made our way back round to the town hall square, and joined the pack of runners again.

The streets outside the run were packed, and it was difficult to even get into the bull run streets, and once in we were absolutely squeezed in as the main street got a final cleaning. Tension was mounting, and there was an incredible air of expectation.

At about ten to eight we were allowed to spread back into the main street, and John and I picked a spot just before the ominously named Dead Man’s Curve. Our plan was to round the corner just as the bulls started running, and stay well to the right, as the bulls come wide around the corner, and then join them for the run straight along Estafeta.

However, any sort of planning in such a crazy, excited, scared crowd like that, is hopeful at best.

The first rocket went off and a huge cheer went up, and you could really feel the fear and excitement in the air. As the second rocket went off, indicating that all the bulls are out of the pen and running, John and I joined the crowd, and pushed-shoved-jogged our way around the corner, and that was the last I saw of him. It was packed, and wild.

I made it about five yards along the street, and then tucked in at the right side, pretty much at the front of the crowd backed against the wall. People were streaming past in front of me, and the speed and panic increaced as the bulls approached. I watched in amazement as the lead animals hurtled around the corner – they were huge. As soon as they drew level with us I heard myself shouting “Go, go, go!” and ran out, along with a large part of the crowd I was with, and we joined the run. I knew that all the bulls hadn’t gone past, there had only been about six or seven in the first group, and I knew there were more behind, as they must have got separated a bit earlier on.

Now running in the middle of the street, it was just a matter of making sure not to fall over, and to try to get back towards the side before the next bulls came barrelling through. But while that seemed like a good idea, it is not how things worked out at all.

In the middle of the running hoards, three or four people went down in front of me, and I jumped and veered left, and just made it around them, but was off balance. Another person fell in front of me, and I couldn’t avoid him, and tripped over the top of him. I was now on the floor, pretty much in the centre of the street, and all I could do was curl up and hope for the best. I looked up, just in time to see one of the huge brown and white guiding steers thunder by just a foot or so away. I stayed curled up, as the crowd of runners was now passing over and around me, and to try to get up would be impossible. Eventually the crowd thinned a bit, and a couple of guys gave me a shout and dragged me to my feet.

I rejoined the runners, trying to quickly take stock of myself, and decided that I was relatively unscathed. I continued to follow the route with the rest of the running crowd, eventually making it into the bull ring at the end. The ring was packed, and people milled around laughing and whooping, obviously thrilled and excited to have completed the run. I too felt elated and thrilled, and somewhat lucky too. “Next time,” I thought, “I really must try to stay on my feet!” That thought was immediately followed by, “What next time? I’m not doing that again. That has to be the craziest thing I have ever experienced.”

In the ring the craziness continued, as for the entertainment of the packed audience, bullocks are released into the ring one at a time to run riot among the runners brave enough or foolish enough to want to stay in there. I stayed in for a few minutes, but when the first bullock came charging past and the crowd surged back, I decided enough was enough, and watching would be a much better option that staying in the ring.

A wise choice, I decided, as over the next twenty minutes or so, I saw at least three people transported away on stretchers. I didn’t take my camera with me this morning, but will try to get into the ring tomorrow to film some of the madness there.

So how do I feel afterwards? This was a pretty important goal for me, one that I have probably had for the longest time. I have been promising myself for over thirty years now that one day I would come and do this. Well, of course there is a huge sense of closure and achievement. I also feel proud to once again have done what I promised myself that I would do. And also incredibly thrilled. I eventually made it back home around an hour and a half after the run, and bought some breakfast supplies. As I made my sandwich, I was surprised to find that my hands still had a slight shake to them, as either the last of the adrenaline wore off…. or maybe it was just the strong cup of coffee I had just had on an empty stomach kicking in!

Thanks to all who helped make this goal an incredible reality… First Festival Travel for their kind offer of camping accommodation, Michael and San Fermin Travel Central for organising my accommodation in town, and for the use of his balcony yesterday, Mike, Willy, Fipps, Ivy, Nick and Curtis for welcoming me into their group, and to John too for joining me, at least for the initial few seconds of the run. You have all helped make this an unforgettable experience. Thank you all.

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ritcey - July 9, 2009 Reply

Amazing, as always, Ian. I don't post often enough (are most people following you elsewhere?), but I look forward to every one of your posts. Forza!

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