Never in my life have I experienced anything like this. I could never have pictured this a few years ago. If someone were to tell me “Chris, you know what you will be doing at 22? You’ll be running for your life” I’d laugh. There is just no other response I could have made. But here I am, It’s 8 a.m. in Spain and I am attempting to fight off an ongoing hangover and exhausted from a night of zero sleep.
I am in a sea of red and white. There is barely enough room for me to breath let alone collect my thoughts. Having just been able to squeeze through a wooden fence and maneuver through a crowd of people I look to my left and right. I see a multitude of emotions. Excitement. Fear. Adrenaline. Exhaustion. Anxiety. All of which I am feeling right now. A gunshot goes off. Everyone is still.
I can’t believe I am doing this. What is wrong with me? Who in their right mind willfully signs up to run from bulls. It’s absolutely ludicrous. It actually makes me laugh that people say “running with the bulls” as if it is just a brisk jog with a dozen 2,400-pound animals. As if these beasts aren’t able to kill you with a single thrust of their horns.
A second gunshot is fired. Finally, I can breathe. There is a breeze that slips through the gaps in people as everyone takes off in a slow paced jog. Even if you wanted to sprint, you wouldn’t be able to. There are just too many people. I make the first turn and then it finally opens up. Every few moments I turn around to see where these monsters are but I am afraid that if I look too long I’ll trip and that’ll be the end of me.
I almost wish I wasn’t told this before I ran, but no use in crying over spilled milk now. Every year people die. Last year tied the record for 10 deaths. But this isn’t the full story. They only count those who die during the run as deaths. Anyone who bleeds out in the hospital or from complications doesn’t count. I am not sure how true this is, but it’s enough to send a chill down my spine.
My heart is beating a million miles per hour. I am not sure how far I have ran but I know it must be over soon. I have yet to see a bull. How can I say I ran with the bulls if I have not seen one? I begin to slow down. I went from a sprint to a jog. Everything around me is blurred. All I hear are screams of the crowd. All I see is a flash of skin, red, and white. I continue to jog thinking to myself is it really worth it. I still ran with the bulls whether I see a bull or not. Or did I?
I ran cross country and track from 7th to 11th grade. That is 4 years of running for the sake of running. I tell myself that all the of practice lead me to this moment. But then I realize how silly that is. This is only a half mile run. 826 meters. That is it. That means last year every 264 feet someone died.
I come to a near dead stop. I look around. I can’t believe that I am doing this. I decide that I will not finish this race without seeing a bull. My speed is hardly power walking and the crowd flows around me like I am just a misplaced rock in a stream. I turn my head around every few seconds torn between wanting to see horns and not. My attention turns to the crowd as their roar crescendos. As I look back to the street I realize that the sea of red and white is moving faster. I know that the next time I turn around, it may be my last.
How did this event even start? Who in the village decided it would be a good idea to let bulls roam free? Was he just the local goon who decided this would be the day he watched his city burn? How did he feel when the city of Pamplona decided to turn this into week long holiday? I don’t think that this could have turned any more ironic even if an author wrote it. Sometimes you are not able to put the pieces together, and this is one of them.
I turn my head and I see fear. I don’t feel it, but I can see it. It’s an emotion that when you see it on another's faced it just travels down your spine. Then I see it. The porcelain color of a horn. It begins to grow as more appear around the corner. Before I know it I can hear the stomping of its feet. I can see their black beady eyes. It feels like a weight was just dropped in my stomach. I face forward as my body is turned into overdrive. I every muscle fiber working together like a symphony. All I can see is a pin-size hole in front of me. All I can see is the next few feet in front of me. I maneuver through the crowd as I make out in the distance the stadium that is the finish line. I am less than 30 feet from it. I can feel my body cheering for joy as the unbelievable happens. The man in turns his head around. I am about to witness what I fear most. I see the white of his eyes as he loses his footing. Less than 5 feet in front of me a man is plummeting to the ground. There is nothing I can do but hurdle over him. My front leg lifts off the ground clearing him with no issue. As I bring my second foot forward I feel a pull. I see his hand grasped around my ankle in a desperate maneuver to pull himself up. This is what Darwin meant by survival of the fittest.
They say before you die your life will flash before you. I am not sure how true that is but I can tell you that the only thing I thought of was my night before. How I drank sangria out of a jug from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. I thought of how different this could have been if I had gone to sleep rather than pull an all-nighter. Maybe I shouldn’t have had an energy drink as a substitute. Maybe, just maybe, I should have stayed home.
My second leg eventually reaches the ground. My body is thrown off balance. I stumbled forward at a sprinter's speed. I can hear 2,400-pound hooves behind me. This is it. This is the end of me.
I regain my balance. I continue forward. I pass through the stadium doors and enter a sand filled area. The seats are overflowing with people to the point where they are spilling over the walls. I pull right to run along the perimeter. All I can hear is the roar of the crowd. The cheers of the crowd. My vision slowly comes back. I can feel the adrenaline forcing my heart to beat through my chest. The sky becomes a color of blue I have never seen before. Everything I look at becomes alive. I am alive. I survived.