Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain is the most thrilling, heart pounding, and jubilant experience ever and it needs to be on your life bucket list. I ran with the bulls back in 2009 with a group of friends and it is an experience that has helped shaped me into who I am today.
At the time I was 29 years old and I lived a relatively risk free life. Looking back on it now the Running of the Bulls became a turning point in my life. It is the moment in which I really began living life and opening my eyes to all sorts of possibilities and adventures. Little did I know that in subsequent years I would go skydiving, cage diving with great white sharks, and quit my job to start Bacon Sports and building the world in my image. Not only was the experience an absolute blast, but there are a ton of life lessons that come from it.
Let’s start at the beginning.
When I told my parents I was going to Running of the Bulls they had the same reaction that ever parent does: “Are you crazy? That’s probably not a good idea.”
What instantly popped into their head was people getting gored and the potential for me to die.
While those are possibilities (albeit small), my goal was obviously not to get gored or die. I saw it more as a calculated risk with an incredible upside.
This is a life lesson that has stuck with me since then: taking calculated risks. When most people think of risk they immediately think of the worst case scenario. Their focus is on the wrong thing. Instead I look at risk and see the good that can come from it. Sure I’m aware that there is downside, but only worrying about the downside is no way to live. The key is not being reckless about risk. If you are smart about it then it’s all good.
Let’s fast forward to arriving in Pamplona, Spain.
Never in my life have I been introduced to a city in a more spectacular fashion than Pamplona, Spain. First off, every single person is wearing the exact same thing: white pants, white shirt, and red bandana around their neck or waist. This would become our uniform for the next few days.
Next we rolled up to see 20 people sleeping/passed out in the grass. Pamplona is a small city and because people come from all across the world to run with the bulls, and not everyone has a hotel room, the grass is a comfortable spot to plop down and catch some z’s. Immediately we knew that we were in for an incredible time.
On the opening day of the festival of San Fermin (the official name of the nine day long running of the bulls celebration), there is a giant party in the streets where everyone pours wine and champagne over each other to kick things off. Imagine what the locker room of a championship winning team is like right after they win. Now imagine that is an entire city filled with party people and endless bottles of wine.
Unfortunately for us we weren’t able to make it into Palmplona in time for the kickoff party, but that didn’t stop us from having our own wine and champagne celebration when we got there. Sure we were a few days late and no one else was pouring wine on each other, but there are no rules except to have fun when you are there.
That brings me to another one of my life lessons: have fun in everything you do.
Pamplona was the epitome of fun. It set the standard for what “time of your life” means. I’ve since taken the principles of what made it such a good time and incorporate it into what I do with Bacon Sports.
Now time for the Running of the Bulls.
The day before we scouted out our location for where we wanted to have the bulls run past us. This was a very important part of the experience as we were all well aware of the risks. We wanted to make sure we were familiar with our surroundings and knew our running path. At the same time, the goal is to make it into the Coliseum before the final bull and the gate closes so we wanted to make sure that we accomplished that.
The main thing that we wanted to avoid was turns (especially Dead Man’s Curve) as that’s where the bulls have the best opportunity to wipe out and disoriented themselves. When that happens all hell breaks lose and that’s when the worst case scenario can take place. Because of that we opted to run in the straightaway (which is location #3 on the map.) The biggest risk of starting from here is that you are completely enclosed by buildings on both sides and there is no escape route. You’ve gotta run until the Coliseum.
On the morning of the day we ran with the bulls I was anxiously nervous and excited. I didn’t know what to expect but I was excited to be there and to be doing it with friends.
Everyone congregates at the beginning of the course and then the first rocket goes off. This signals that the corral gate is open and is when we start to lightly jog to find our spot on the course. At this time my heart started to race and the experience started to get real. Then the second rocket goes off which signifies that the six bulls have been released and SHIT IS ON and the intensity goes up to a whole new level! Everyone is running at a good pace now, all with the knowledge that at any point some the bulls are going to be coming up from behind us.
One thing to note here is that the course is absolutely packed with people and the width can barely fit two cars. The best way I can describe it is imagine what it is like trying to get into an NFL game where there are people packed shoulder to shoulder. Now image that there are six bulls running loose and everyone is trying to go in the same direction.
As we are running the bulls finally catch up to us and they are no farther than an arm’s length away. When we see them we are packed in as tight as you can imagine and running at a fast pace. The crazy thing about the experience is that the bulls weren’t the most dangerous thing, it was the other people. You’ve got people from all over the world running from behind you and pretty much on top of you, all trying to avoid the bulls. Because of it your Spider-Sense needs to be top notch as does your buddy system as you can very easily get trampled.
After the main set of bulls ran past us it was an AWESOME HOLY SHIT feeling, especially knowing how close they get. Amazingly, at no point did I feel in danger from the bulls. They just run right down the middle of the street as a pack. It is the stray bulls that you have to worry about.
We knew there were still a few bulls left on the course who got separated from the pack, so our goal now was to get into the Coliseum before that final bull did (which we were able to do.) Once you are inside the Coliseum you look up and there are people in the seats cheering, on top of all the other runners in the arena and a few of the baby bulls. It was a euphoric feeling, one in which I felt incredibly alive.
As I wrap this up and reflect back on my Running of the Bulls experience there are a few more life lessons that I’ve carried with me.
The importance of being present. I was never more present in my life than the few minutes it took to run with the bulls. I was completely aware of everything and I soaked up every moment of it. Every day I work on being more present in everything I do.
The value of shared experiences. I love doing awesome stuff with others. I’ve found that I enjoy experiences more than I do material possessions. They are much more meaningful and the memories last longer.
Getting comfortable being uncomfortable. Was the buildup to running with the bulls uncomfortable? Yes. However, the payoff made it sooooo worth it. Nothing great ever came from your comfort zone. The more you can put yourself in uncomfortable experiences, the more you grow from them.
Have a life bucket list and start crossing things off. Running of the Bulls was on my bucket list and the experience far exceeded my expectations. I can not recommend it enough.
Experience life (like really experience it). Not every day of your life is going to be like Running of the Bulls but that doesn’t mean you can’t have that same zeal for life every single day. Everything is a matter of perspective. Now that I’ve experienced the best that Pamplona has to offer I aim to really experience the best that life has to offer in every situation. Whether that means trying new places, meeting new people, or always putting out good vibes and being in a good mood. It’s so easy to autopilot your way through life. However, if you do you miss so much awesomeness.
I want to hear from you. What have you checked off your life bucket list and what life lessons did you learn from it? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @RobCressy.