Be a Mozo, Be in the Encierro

Running of the Bulls: Morning Three

Full video coverage of my run:

http://www.rtve.es/noticias/san-fermin/encierros/jose-escolar

I woke up at 5:20 a.m in my tent and pondered, "do I run or do I not." I laid there in this pensive state till 5:50 a.m. It was like being paralyzed. The bus would be leaving at 6 a.m. I just had the most/best sleep I've had since arriving at the campsite — a mere 4.5 hours and actually in my tent. Only one person from my campsite had more than small scrapes. He got pretty banged up once he was inside the bull ring by one of the steers. The night before there was a freak thunderstorm, I figured it might be more dangerous with the wet streets. One girl had gone straight from the bars to the run the previous two and made it out without a scratch. Finally, I threw my white shirt and white pants with my red bandana and ran to the bus. I made it just in the nick of time.

With my new friends from the day before from England and a guy named Kevin from Saratoga, CA and recent Cal Poly grad, we walked the course. We took the advice most first timers get by starting at the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall). Once the police padded us down and it was a sure thing we would not be kicked out, I began to zone out. (For crowd control reasons if you are to close to the end, you get kicked off the track or if they think you might even be a little drunk). Ideally, you want to position yourself in the middle of the pack. If you start at the beginning, you won't make it to the arena. If you start too far forward, you will be kicked out. If you run during the weekend, positioning yourself before the run is critical. More people are kicked out since there are more people. Another reason I waited till Tuesday to even think about running. Fewer people, less danger.

My goal was to make it past "Dead Mans Curve" before the bulls. Dead Mans is a tight turn from Calle Mercaderes to Calle Estefeta. It shouldn't be hard to explain how it gots its name. This section is where most people have been gored or get a severe injury. I also wanted to make it inside the ring. In reality, after watching the first run from the ring, this part of the encierro seemed the most fun.

I began walking shortly after the first canon at 8 a.m. I was told not to take off in full sprint too early or else you arrive in the ring too early and get booed. You will also be booed if start close to the end and enter first to the arena. Doing this even might position yourself in the hallway leading into the bullring at the same time as the bulls, not a safe place to be.

At the sound of the second canon, I remember picking up my pace. After jogging around Dead Mans Curve, I heard the gonging of the cowbells and people screaming. I started sprinting. Almost instantly, I went into "runners high," and I only remember flashes from here. Dopamine, adrenaline, endorphins rushed to my brain. This feeling happens typically after a prolonged period of exercise, for example, running a marathon. Only this was only after a few seconds of spiriting. All you can think is run, run as fast as you can. Don't look back and avoid tripping over people. The bulls were close behind me. It reminded me of being at the Saddle Rack shooting. You remember right before and once you know you are safe.

To put it in perspective, from start to finish the race is 875 meters/957 yards or a little less than a half mile and takes about 2 minutes. It depends on the speed of the bulls and if any randomly stop running. Mine lasted 2 minutes and 13 seconds and the bulls were from José Escobar Ranch weighing between 525 and 600 kilos according to Sanferminprensa.com. Blogger, Mark Nayler from the Culture Trip says it perfectly in his post, "your body takes over from your brain."

I was sprinting along the right sideline of the street, avoiding getting to close to the middle or left side. I was also dodging the copious amount of people. The funny thing about the run, the people, are more dangerous than the bulls.

At some point, I saw the head and horns of one of the bulls or oxen in the corner of my left eye. I remember thinking to myself, "Oh Shit." It is safest to run on the right side of the street. If you don't want to put yourself in serious risk of getting hurt or gored stay between the buildings and white lines. You can see these lines if you watch the run. Avoid the middle of the street at all costs. Trust me when I say, it's just as thrilling running alongside the bulls for a split second. It's not worth it running right in front of or grabbing the horns, or tapping the bulls with your hand or newspaper. Doing these things will surely increase the odds of getting hurt.

Second I remember running past a circle of medical staff forming around someone in the middle of the street. The medical staff is trained to respond within seconds, so I figure I nearly missed it. I only looked down for a split second to see the mans face. I knew I had run past at least one bull, but you don't know if all of them are running in one pack or groups. Therefore I knew I still needed to sprint faster, in case there were more behind me.

Third, my red sash around my waist came loose but was still tied, and I quickly tossed it over my body to prevent tripping.

I then saw the opening of the bull ring. I sprinted even faster. After hearing stories of past runners and the history of the event, this has to be the most dangerous section. The timing here is crucial. You do not want to be running through here while the bulls are too. At the same time, if you want the full encierro experience, you want to make it inside. They close the doors to the ring immediately after the last bull or steer enters. I must have made it just in time because one of the campsite staff members was one of the first not to get in and I was jogging with him at the first canon before taking off. I also lost my four other companions I came with, and they did not make it in either.

I snapped out of the runners high and started dry-heaving after positioning myself at a safe distance from the entrance. I made it. I was safe for at least the first part.

To prepare for the nights' bullfight, they release one steer to run around at a time to lead each bull into their pen. These steers horns are capped, and they chase the people around the ring until the bull comes out. Here's when the stupid runners show their true colors and a part of the whole experience I didn't take part or like. Instead of allowing the steer to chase them, they taunt and try to pick fights with the steer before the bull comes out. You can see this happen in my video of when I watched the first morning. Let me be clear. You are not supposed to touch them. Let me say that again, for those in the back, "DO NOT TOUCH THEM." Read the full list of rules here.

Additionally, unless you want a capped steer horn going up your but or be stomped on, don't go one on one with it. If you don't take my advice and even take things too far like grabbing its horns, be prepared to be beaten up by locals. The cops will not pity you or do anything to the people beating you up.

Accidently and randomly, I did find myself running in front of the steer because it quickly changed course. Thankfully, I never got bucked. It is also difficult to see where it is going with all the people. A majority of the time, I kept to the opposite side dancing around or running back and forth depending on the direction of the baby bull.

While I was able to make it out alive and without a scratch(or at least I thought) it can't be said for everyone. There were two serious injuries, but that does not mean there were others I imagine.

Person 1US: Glasgow 15 head injury, mild closed head injury. Annesia and bruises.

Glasgow Coma Scale. A score of 15 is like a typical concussion (I believe), 8 and below is serve, and 3 and less is vegetable like state.

Person 2 UK: Received a compound fracture in the ankle, fracture of the clavicle and scapula

You can read the full break down on the injury report for each run here.

After the run, I made my way back to the shuttle and headed back to the campsite to exchange stories. The comedown from the entire event was just as extreme as the build up. Similarly, how I used the example of the runner's high effect when running a marathon; afterward, it's not too far off from the "Post-Marathon Blues." After the fact, I did realize I didn't make it out scratch free. In reality, at some point, I must have hit something or someone and have a small cut and bruise on my hip and a tiny mark on my back. I didn't even realize or feel it until I showered back at the camp.

I survived an event that is seriously life threating. At the same time, I would say, it's just as dangerous if not less surfing. Like the ocean, the bulls are unpredictable. I willingly put myself in this danger, not precisely knowing what it would be like or what might happen. It's not for everyone. It's genuinely mindboggling and an out of body experience that I will never forget. Do I believe in God and angles, the saints or some higher power? I wasn't raised super religious, so this is an interesting question for me. Was it because I stayed to the right? Was it just because I wasn't foolish like the SF Bay Area lawyer trying to take a selfie who got gored? Will any life experience top this one? Will I run again in the future? Most likely not, but never say never. Will it be the last time I do something I would have never done if I didn't move abroad, absolutely not. At the end of the day, you can only have experiences like this by traveling and getting out of your comfort zone. That doesn't always mean it has to be life threating.

Here are some of my final thoughts:

It is important to note and take into consideration they only started keeping records of deaths in 1924. It began in the Middle Ages. Furthermore, just because people don't die doesn't mean they aren't gored pretty bad. One of the staff members at the campsite told us about being gored in '95. While I was unable to get an accurate answer and can't back it up, I was told the official death count only includes people who were pronounced dead before making it to the hospital. For example, a staff member from the site said, "one person was gored and sent to the hospital is not on the official count because he got an infection afterward and died from the infection."

When it comes to the bullfight, bullfighting, and the culture behind it is not one of my own. Therefore it is not my place to pass judgment.

When traveling abroad, I believe you have to keep an open mind. To have progression and realistic change, it must come from within that culture to make the change. Every culture has negative aspects. Over the years, they have made the running safer, so change is entirely possible. Many cities have outlawed it. The move has been positive.

There were Americans from the campsite that went to one of them with an open mindset. Their reaction is what you would think but its entirely different to see it for your eyes. They ended up leaving early and leaving very depressed. One girl said the entire bathroom was filled with people crying. On my last day, I could have gotten a free ticket. I turned it down. After hearing the stories of the Americans who went, I didn't want to see it. I didn't want to see it in the first place. Going into the festival, I wasn't even planning on running. I mostly went because it is one of the biggest parties in the world and to watch all the people running. I also wanted to get sweet pictures, that didn't even happen. The mayor of Pamplona stated this might be the last year of the bullfights but not the end of the run.

After participating in this historical event and being able to call myself a Mozo officially, I think it is entirely possible to still have the Running of the Bulls and Fiesta de San Fermín without the bullfighting. I don't think it would have a significant effect on the entire event.

Be curious. Be courageous. Be chivalrous.

B.E.