Respect el toro, veterans of the run advise
Stars and Stripes June 19, 2003
Running with the bulls is not for everyone.
It is as crazy as it is dangerous.
But for anyone thinking about taking the huge risk of getting gored, veterans who have survived the stampede suggest rookie runners do their research.
Running without checking the route, coming up with a plan or having good running shoes is sort of like going skydiving without checking the chute before you jump.
“The truth is that it’s as safe or as dangerous as you want to make it,” said Maj. John Vogel, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who ran with the bulls last July.
Fermin Martinez Esparza, 34, is from Pamplona and has been running since he was 16 years old. He offered these suggestions: Wear running shoes, never take pictures while you run and listen to the loudspeakers for information.
He said that Americans sometimes come to Pamplona and approach the running as if they were big-time wrestlers getting hyped up for a match. He urges runners to take the annual tradition with a dose of respect.
“The best are those who are very serious and they come here just for the run,” Esparza said. “The worst are those who are drunk.”
Jeffrey Rath, a professor from California, has been running for years. He takes a Zen-like attitude toward the big day.
“You have to be willing to go one-on-one with the bull,” he said. “Not just run with them, but master them.”
That is no easy feat.
The bulls are big and angry. They are not your ordinary toro. They are taught to gore a human — something to remember if you decide to partake in the running part of the huge party.
Another thing to keep in mind: Most runners do not run the whole route.
The bulls are too fast. Many people pick a spot along the 900-yard course and then run to a spot where they know they can escape without getting a horn in their behind.
But bulls are sometimes the least of a runner’s worries. People often cause the most injuries.
“The biggest thing is, this is not about athletic ability,” Vogel said.
Olympic sprinter “Michael Johnson could not make it for long without stopping because of the crowd. There are so many people in the crowd. You’re running along and, if everyone keeps running, it flows OK. But people stop and turn around to see where they are. One person stops and another person runs into him because he’s running. Then, they’re bouncing off … and that’s what gets dangerous.”
Runners have to be aware of not only where the bulls are, but also the people who are running in front, behind and to the sides. Veterans warn people to be on the look out for the runners who loiter on the sides. People who park themselves inside the route flush against the buildings often cause huge people pileups.
“In reality, the bulls are dangerous,” Rath said. “But it’s the people who get you killed.”
One of the cardinal rules of running is: If you fall, whatever you do, never get up.
That was the mistake American Matthew Peter Tasio made in 1995. He fell down, got up and a bull’s horn ripped into his stomach and cut his aorta vein. He died shortly after arriving at the hospital.
Runners who fall are told to stay down and curl up into the fetal position and protect your head.
“If you stay down, he will just jump over you,” Esparza said.
Well, most of the time.
But getting a hoof in the back is better than getting gored.
The most common mistake new runners make is that they get engulfed in the party atmosphere and get drunk the night before the 8 a.m. race. Veteran runners put out this disclaimer: Don’t run drunk, and don’t let friends who are drunk run.
“If you go out there drunk, you’re endangering your life as well as others’,” Rath said.
Getting smart on the do’s and don’ts of running isn’t a bad idea, either.
Every runner should do some research before running. Veterans are more than willing to talk to beginners. They say people should walk the route before they go.
“I have learned from people who have done it,” Esparza said. “That is the only reason why I know how to do it.”
But even if you do everything right, if you follow the direction of the masters, running with the bulls is an incredible risk. In the last century, 13 people have died in the race. Hundreds more have been seriously hurt.
“I got gored in 1985, and I did everything right,” Rath said.