Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
One runner was gored in the leg and three more needed hospital treatment after last July's running of the bulls in Pamplona. Vincent West / Reuters
One runner was gored in the leg and three more needed hospital treatment after last July's running of the bulls in Pamplona. Vincent West / Reuters

Pamplona bull-run veterans addicted to thrill of the chase

Enthusiasts return every year for Spain's hair-raising dash through the streets of Pamplona, racing against the bulls, an event in which 15 people have died over the past 87 years.

PAMPLONA // For your average daredevil, risking your life once at Spain's San Fermin festival is enough. Then there are the veterans, who return year after year to run with the bulls, unable to kick their fix.

The tradition immortalised by Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises is the ultimate rush for this small club of regulars, who prepare obsessively for the electrifying and sometimes shocking dash through Pamplona's old quarter, held every year in the second week of July.

Juan Pedro Lecuana, 38, a father of four who has been coming back every year since 1989, said: "First you're hooked by the tradition, then it gets you as a fan and, finally, you get to the point where it's an extreme addiction, where you need to be running with the bulls."

At 8am from July 7 to 14, six half-ton fighting bulls are freed from a corral to rumble after thousands of runners down a fenced route of about 800 metres, ending up in a bullring where they will face matadors and certain death by afternoon.

Most runners dash through the cobblestone streets for about 50 metres before jumping out to safety behind the barriers.

For the humans, any slip-up could signal death, so preparing properly for an event that combines elements of hurdles and rugby scrum can never be taken lightly - a lesson taken to heart by the veterans but often ignored by tourists.

Fifteen people have been killed since records started in 1924, with Daniel Jimeno Romero the last in 2009.

Rick Musica, from the US, has missed only four runs over 13 years. He watches hundreds of videos throughout the year to gain better insight into surviving the obstacle course. "On one hand, you have this sheer exhilaration and on the other, sheer utter terror ... balancing those emotions is the key ... it's not always easy. Actually, it's never easy," Mr Musica, 45, said.

"To see these magical beasts thumping through the narrow streets is something that defies logic and something that is unlike anything I have ever done in my life. It is truly a celebration of life."

The do's and don'ts for the two to three-minute dash are simple: don't yell at the animals, carry a rolled-up newspaper for a handy distraction and, most importantly, if you fall, don't get up.

The American runner Matthew Tassio, 22, did just that in 1995 and was immediately killed after being charged.

Being physically fit is important, and veteran runners fine tune through various physical activities, from running to swimming in the month leading up to San Fermin.

Cesar Cruchaga, the former captain of the Osasuna football club in Spain's first division, was able only recently to return to running after ending his professional career. His first run was at age 15.

"It's a very different feeling to scoring any goal … so intense it beats any game of football I played," said Mr Cruchaga, who was born in Pamplona.

"That sensation that death is so near - there is nothing comparable to that."

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National