The Running of the Bulls, Day 2

A collection of sights and quick observations from our man on the ground at the 2012 San Fermin festival, including a conversation with David Ubeda, who recovered from last year's broken arm to run the horns of the lead steers down Estafeta

Bill Hillmann

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The packed streets of Pamplona kept me awake until 6:30 this morning. I finally fell sleep only to wake 30 minutes later in a cold sweat. Panicked that I’d slept through the run, I jumped up and looked out my balcony. People crowded the street below as the city workers finished standing the barricades.

I hurried to the apartment on Estafeta where we enter the run, and managed to catch a bit of sleep as my group waited for the appropriate entrance time. I woke groggy and tried to find coffee or tea, but failed. We joined the crowd on the street at 10 to eight, walking to our starting position at the top of Estafeta. I was in a hazy fog—not afraid, not nervous, not over-excited. It wasn’t until I crossed the street and shook a Basque runner’s hand that I snapped out of my stupor. Adrenaline sparked and popped in my back and shoulders and the excitement finally returned.

The streets were packed, and in my haze I didn’t hear the first rocket. John Hemingway told me that the rocket had gone off. We waited, and sure enough, a minute and a half later the herd approached. I slipped into the center of the street and began to jog with the other runners. They were slow, so I ran slowly with them.

As the herd approached, I looked back and drifted to the left side of Estafeta. Of course, the bulls swooped in along the right side and I was way out of position. I cut through the crowd of runners and reached the final bull in a set of three. I could have run beside that bull all the way through the arena but decided to stop and wait for the rest. I halted in the center of the street.

It was a long time before they came. A tan colored bull led the pack, and I positioned to run its horns. Several Spaniards ran in a string along the side of the animal but no one was on the front—I had to go for it. I slipped in front of the animal and ran its horns for 15 yards. As we approached the tunnel, several runners fell, two on the left and three on the right. I maneuvered past them and lost position on the horns. As I stepped onto the sand, two runners fell in front of me and I toppled over them and fell to my hands and knees. Swiftly, I crawled out of the path of the tunnel and climbed out over the ring wall. One bull refused to enter the tunnel and ran a wide circle in the ring before entering the corrals.

I climbed up on a one of the press boxes that lined the outside of the ring. Up on the JumboTron in the arena the replay loop kicked on. At Santo Domingo a bull gored a 73-year-old Pamplona native in the leg and tossed him to the cobblestones. As the herd approached La Curva, Angus “Gus” Ritchie, in his yellow Partick Thistle shirt, looked as though he’d miss the entire herd. But as the first set of bulls passed him an opening appeared in front of the second set. Gus cut in front of that second pack and ran on the horns of the same tan bull I’d run with. Gus, however, ran for an incredible distance on the horns all the way up lower Estafeta. He ran so fast that at one point he opened a 10-yard gap between him and the lead animal. He looked back and slowed to hold a near perfect position on the horns. He nearly made it to the first intersection before he got out to the left. “It’s taken a lot of study of runners like Brucie Sinclair to get that run,” Gus said outside Bar Txoco later that day.

A few seconds later, on upper Estafeta, David Ubeda of Phoenix by way of Madrid appeared on the horns of the lead steers. He looked back and maneuvered around to let them pass, and then ran on the horns of the lead bull. Ubeda took that animal a long distance up Estafeta in perfect position.

“It was a very nice morning. As the bull came I started to run the center of the street.” Ubeda said. “I found a line and I thought, I can do this!. I can run this line! First, I had the steers but I saw I could maneuver around them. I sort of backed into position and was with that bull for a long time. He was very rhythmic and steady. It was nice to run with this animal.”

Ubeda broke a bone in his arm on July 10 last year while running with the Miura Bulls in Pamplona. He was unable to run the rest of fiesta. Tomorrow, he’ll try to run with the Miura again.

At the entrance to the tunnel a bull slung its horn through a man’s Penuelo (red neckerchief) and dragged him 30 yards. Miraculously, the man wasn’t seriously injured. He did, though, raise awareness of a very important thing all bull runners should do: tie their Penuelo in a slip knot.

Final stats on the day’s run: one goring, and five hospitalized with injuries due to falling. It took just 2 minutes, 53 seconds for the herd to reach the corrals.

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