An epic journey, Part 4: The running of the bulls - participant

By Reade Brower | Aug 09, 2018

Part 4 takes over where Part 3 ended.

After a day watching the running of the bulls, my sons and I were willing; if not ready.

After three days walking through the French Pyrenees to Pamplona, Spain, our work to get there was about to pay off. What could go wrong?

The first challenge in running with the bulls is getting past the blockades into the right spot in City Center Square. You had to be there no later than 7:30 a.m. and then you jockey around to find your spot; for me it was time to find a piece of wall at the beginning of a straightaway. I picked a part of the course just short of “deadman’s corner,” a spot where bulls can run into the barricades attempting to take that turn at a high rate of speed.

The course itself measures one kilometer (six tenths of a mile). The bulls cover it in about two and a half minutes; in other words, pretty damned fast. They start up a hill, getting a head of steam as they crest and head for the arena. This morning it was raining and slippery, both for the bulls and for the humans running with them.

The reality is that people tripping and falling over each other is as dangerous as getting gored. People have died of suffocation and being trampled; staying away from bull horns is important, but lots of other factors must be taken into account.

The horn sounds precisely at 8 a.m. and the bulls are let loose. There are six of them, followed by six oxen used as herders; they make sure to steer the bulls that get separated from the pack. For some, the strategy is to run immediately; staying ahead of the bulls their goal, or letting the bulls catch up to them, running beside or with them, which is considered “macho” (it is mostly men in the streets; women are allowed and a few run).

Here is the link to the video; I think I see one of my sons at around the 30- second mark; I am at about 45 seconds and my other son would be a little ahead of me: youtube.com/watch?v=DR8AmRtEXHA&feature=player_embedded

The idea is to beat the bulls to the stadium, run with them into the bullring, or be close enough behind the last oxen that you get in before the gate closes. While I took the conservative approach, as I had promised my wife and friends (stay against the wall and run after the bulls), my sons were more aggressive. They ran with the bulls, but stayed on the side rather than challenging them like some of the experienced runners. They stayed with the pack, making it into the stadium; the gate shut just in front of me.

It might have been a blessing in disguise not to make the stadium; my kids were busy whooping it up when they looked up to see a bull come charging. Thinking the bull had escaped; they quickly scaled the four-foot wall and tumbled over it to safety, where they were led out of the stadium. They questioned whether I would have been nimble enough to get over the wall.

The next day, we watched from the grandstands as runners, and then bulls with runners, then more runners, came into the arena. Most runners didn’t panic when the bulls were let out, one by one, to run around; they knew the drill. They hadn’t escaped; this was part of the experience.

For a half-hour one bull after another was let out to run around and chase runners; these were smaller than the bulls from earlier -- bulls in training, perhaps?

Some of the participants ran close to the bulls, taunting them. Others tried to pat them (more like push them), while the truly daring would somersault over them, to the delight of the stadium crowd.

With knowledge comes power. The experience was unique and once you understood the drill, very doable. To do a second run would be different and perhaps more interesting but, for the Browers, “one-and-done” was bastante (enough).

With six bulls safely in their pens, the next step would be the evening bullfights where matadors would battle, and then kill, the six bulls in a one-sided fight, with all the weapons and advantages given to the matadors, and a few morsels given to the bulls.

Next week: Running of the bulls –The slaughter

“Knowledge is power and it can command obedience. A man of knowledge during his lifetime can make people obey and follow him and he is praised and venerated after his death. Remember that knowledge is a ruler and wealth is its subject.”

--- Saying from the book “A Peak of Eloquence” - Nahi Al-Balagha

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