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The Global Ambassadors – Running of the Bulls

#1 The Running of the Bulls – July 2016

Prior to taking the train to Pamplona to participate in the San Fermin Festival, we spent several days in Madrid taking in its sights and sounds, as well as a considerable amount of vino tinto and what seemed to be pounds of jamón serrano!

The Festival, a tradition dating back to 1591, is no doubt best known for its legendary Running of the Bulls. The event was made famous by Earnest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises, which chronicled a group of American and British expatriates who traveled from Paris to the Festival to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights.

Running of the Bulls Global Ambassadors
In the lead up to our running, which was the second such run during the 3rd day of the Festival, we had the chance to meet and mingle with a great group of people from all over the world. Our tour guide, Toby Atkins, along with his staff, delivered a truly dynamic experience, one that featured our immersion into all aspects of the Festival, including a sangria-soaked Opening Ceremony (who knew they made the ubiquitous red party cups large enough to hold an entire bottle of wine?).

After having both walked the course earlier in the week (and paid special attention to the part of the course known as “Dead Man’s Curve” for obvious reasons) and watched the Festival’s first very smooth and uneventful running of the bulls the day before from our group’s apartment balcony, we were somewhat relieved and optimistic about our own foray. Lasting about three minutes or so, the running we witnessed appeared relatively calm and uneventful, and those in our party that ran it returned unscathed and ready to celebrate their “accomplishment.” Being the team players that we were throughout the trip, we toasted our newfound friends’ success. And they then did the same, wishing us similar success the following day.

The night before our run and feeling as if the pressure and intensity had been considerably ratcheted down, we joined members of our group to watch a “Corrida de Toros.” The grisly scene, which was intensified due to the evening’s extreme humidity, tight seating, warm beer, and ever-present cigarette smoke, was not for the faint of heart. While rich in tradition, it was even richer in cruelty.

When we awoke on our “race day” the gravity of what was about to ensue grew from curiosity and excitement to fear and self-doubt (which made the Imodium dosage that much more important!). These emotions continued to build as we walked the fifteen minutes from our hotel to our apartment which served as a staging area for the morning’s participants.

Running of the Bulls Global Ambassadors

As we waited with unbridled anticipation to hear the launching of the first rocket signifying that the bull’s corral gate had opened, the feeling was unlike anything we had ever felt. And as they rounded the corner from Dead Man’s Curve less than a minute later and headed directly toward us, anticipation turned to outright fear. The sights and sounds emanating from the hundreds of runners at that portion of the course as the bulls, moving at a relatively brisk 15 or 20 mph pace, raced toward us carried with it a macabre feeling. There wasn’t even time for gallows’ humor…although I sense we were all in need of a light-hearted distraction.

The utter chaos, which brought with it an adrenaline rush like no other, intensified as several of the bulls passed us briefly and then deviated from the course, turning around and running the wrong way in the process. Not surprisingly, this forced participants to also turn and run, however, in doing so, we ended up running not only against the grain, but also toward the other bulls heading in the correct direction.

Running of the Bulls Global Ambassadors

Despite the harrowing nature and due to a self-preservation at all costs mentality, especially once I was knocked down and trampled, we both made it into the bull fighting ring (a distance of a couple hundred yards) – the event’s final destination for bulls and fools alike.

Typically lasting about three minutes, the running we participated in lasted about twice that long, reinforcing just how unusually dangerous/exhilarating/insane our experience had been.

But at least the weather cooperated.

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