By Damien “Gap” Budd
To bed early, about 11.30pm, with the intention of a good night’s sleep.
Before I run in the first Pamplona bullrun of 2013.
Somehow I manage to fall asleep despite all the nervous energy running through my veins and music still blaring at the Aussie Fanatics campsite. 4.30am comes around and phone alarms can be heard across camp. Tour guides are walking among the 600 tents shouting that the first bus leaves at 5.15am. I’m wide awake, more awake than I’ve ever been.
For today, I run with the bulls.
As I write this I still can’t believe I did it and my heart is racing with the memory. I make the 5.15am bus with ease and 10 minutes later we arrive in Pamplona. We walk for another 10 minutes through Pamplona’s streets that are packed with people still covered in last night’s sangria, and in dire need of a bottle of water and a siesta. We arrive at our starting point just beyond City Hall and stand for two hours amid the swelling crowd.
“What’s the time? How long do we have?” can be heard minute after tense minute.
At 7.30am the police make their presence known by beginning the culling process. From the bullring to Deadman’s corner, everyone is cleared out.
Then they come for us.
We think we’re about to be culled. We’ve travelled halfway ‘round the world for this. Surely not. As the police continue the cull, they spread us along the course. We arrive at Deadman’s corner. It’s about 7.55am and we’re safe; we’re not getting culled. We finish about 50m past Deadman’s and it’s now just before 8am. It’s not a safe position to be, with little knowledge of what lurks around the corner, and our hearts are racing at well over 100 beats per minute, just as mine is again now. On cue Kahl, the Fanatics tour guide on his twelfth run, comes past. We recognise his bright yellow shirt and decide he is the best person to follow. Then, bang! 8am on the 7th of the 7th, 2013. The first firecracker is lit and the noise is unmistakeable.
The bulls are on their way.
Off we go at a slow pace toward the Plaza de Toros (bullring). As we run, we try not to look back, for this is one of golden rules. Instead, we keep one eye on the balconies. When the people on these balconies are staring not too far behind us, we know it’s game on.
The bulls are right behind us.
We find the first vacant part of the barrier and hold on.
The bulls go past. They are running at a ferocious pace!
From a quick glance, it looks as though they’re mostly together. We jump off the barrier and chase after them. We’re now 150m from the bullring and a roar is heard from behind; people are looking back in fear. I treat the look on their faces seriously. I look over my shoulder and there is a lone bull that has become separated from the rest of the pack.
This is not good.
The group splits. Everyone is fleeing for safety. The top of any part of the barrier could mean safety. I can’t find one. I’m three people deep so guess at least the other two will be hurt before me. They see clear space ahead and bolt for it. I’m now front and centre with the bull looking right at me and a girl beside me. I will never forget the look in her eyes.
It probably mirrored mine.
I’ve never been so scared. I begin to climb on people. A Spanish guy grabs me by the back of the shirt and pulls me up onto the barrier. He gives me a hug and says: “You’re ok now.”
I give him the standard and sincere Aussie reply: “Cheers mate.” The bull then turns and runs towards the ring. I jump off the fence and chase it. I’ve done it. I made the bullring. Not everyone makes it this far and I can only wonder if those who haven’t have been gored, trampled or have leapt behind a barrier.
It was a sense of accomplishment. A moment I will never ever forget. I felt invincible. Nobody could stop me. I even allowed myself to contemplate running a second time. But neither Mum nor my grandparents would have been pleased with that idea.
July 7, 2013, 8am will be a date and time stuck in my mind forever.
In years to come I’ll be on YouTube and Google looking up news and video from the bullruns, wanting to know how it went while cringing at the carnage.
And hopefully the young Aussie girl who was gored over the final couple of days will be able to bring herself to do the same thing.