As you might have heard, on Saturday, I found myself running down the center of a damp, cobblestone street up a long hill known as Cuesta Santo Domingo in Pamplona, part of the annual Running of the Bulls that I’ve attended every year since 2005. This year, everything was more or less fine until I heard a frightened, guttural shout from behind me and the dozens of other runners started to bail to the sides of the street. I looked back as a grayish black bull named Sentido furiously swung his 3-foot-long horns while galloping up the hill. I tried to hold the center so I could lead the pack and run in front of Sentido and his fellow bulls, but the wave of exiting runners continued to push me right. So I cut in that direction instead, hoping Sentido would pass in the center and that I could run alongside the pack.
But there was no escaping him. While Sentido was smallish for Pamplona, at around 1,100 pounds, his reduced stature made him extra fast. As he closed in on me, he dipped his head and the tip of his horn touched the waist of my white running pants, pulling them down and revealing my yellow underwear. He then lunged upward, sending me a few feet into the air. I broke my fall on the dark sidewalk with my hands. I stood up — angry, but fine.
How did he gain on me that fast?!?!?!
A few of the other runners rushed up to me, yelling and trying to pull me to the medics. I refused. I was in too much shock to feel any pain. Nor did I see any blood. Plus, my pants weren’t even ripped. The other runners insisted, however. Eventually, I gave in and stepped through the wooden barricades to where the medics were. Once I was there, they pulled down my pants. Dark red stained the yellow crotch of my underwear. The medics told me that I’d been gored very close to my anus, but that luckily it didn’t appear to be perforated. That was a major relief. If the horn had perforated my anus, I would’ve been in the hospital for months and would’ve left with a colostomy bag. Instead, they said I merely needed a minor surgery to clean the 1-inch wound, as well as a short hospital stay for recovery.
This made a lot of news in Spain and back at home in the U.S., too. Everybody found it ironic. Here I was—the guy who’d written a well-regarded book called Mozos: A Decade of Running with the Bulls of Spain that included the guide, “How to Run with the Bulls.”
Not to mention this was the second time I’d been gored. Three years ago, a bull named Brevito stabbed me twice in the thigh, sending me to the hospital for 11 days and forcing me to walk with a cane for months — another incident that received a ton of press. For the same reason as well: Author of Guide on How to Run with Bulls Gored by Bull.
A bunch of my Bosque and Spanish runner friends visited me at the hospital, including Juan Pedro Lecuona, an iconic Pamplona bull-runner who walked me into surgery. Afterward, amped up on morphine, adrenaline and relief that my injuries weren’t nearly as bad as they could’ve been, I was manic happy and energized. I started jogging around my room and the hall to show the documentary crew that was shadowing me that I could get back out there to run with the bulls immediately. All the while, they took pictures of the open back of my hospital gown and my new underwear, which looked a lot like a diaper.
The next day was way worse. My pelvis was severely bruised, and the plastic drain capsule doctors put in the crook of my anus to drain the blood and pus from my wound was crushing my left testicle. (I also needed three stitches in my hand from breaking my fall.) Despite my morphine-boosted confidence the day before, I wondered if I’d run again at all during the fiesta. It stretches a total of eight consecutive days, and I’d gotten hurt on the second. That meant coming to terms with the possibility of missing the last six runs — or three-quarters of the event.
I perked up, though, when my friend Alfonso showed up with a cortado (espresso with just a little bit of milk). I rallied further when the surgeon told me I could go home. “Can he run again?” Alfonso asked him.
“I don’t want him to — he’s hurt,” the surgeon replied in Spanish. “But he’s a grown man, and he has to decide for himself.”
The next morning several huge news outlets (The Today Show, my hometown Chicago ABC affiliate, Reuters, etc.) followed me as I tried to loosen up around the course before the bulls from my favorite ranch, Fuente Ymbro, would run. Its bulls are very noble and tend not to unleash hell. It seemed safer to me than restarting on the fifth day of the fiesta, which involved the bulls from Jandilla. They tend to gore a lot of people and create many other problems for runners.
Once the starting rocket went off, it was the usual mayhem: The other runners yanked at my shirt to keep themselves from falling over, but in the process, they pushed my back and shoulder so hard that they almost knocked me down instead. There also was the typical screaming in my face and inadvertent punches to my head. The street opened as six bulls and six steers trailed, and I broke into a sprint (albeit slower and stiffer than usual and fighting against a sharp pain that stabbed at my pelvis near the hip) and ran alongside them for 10 yards. Their eyes looked at me curiously as I went. I was hesitant. I didn’t want to get hurt again so I called it quits and dove behind the thick wooden barricades that separates runners from spectators.
One of the best runners ever, a guy named David Rodriguez from near Madrid, scolded me, saying I should’ve waited and healed up. He was right. Exhaustion grabs me every other hour, and I have to lie down to rest. My pelvis and left hip throb whenever I sneeze or cough. And while my doctors removed the drain capsule a couple of days ago, the sutures holding my wound together will remain in place until Monday. To get through it all, I’m on a high dosage of antibiotics and pain pills.
But I still can’t stop running completely. This morning, in fact, I was back out there for the fiesta’s seventh run. And I’ll be out there again tomorrow, too, for the last one.
My haters and the media can think it’s insane and ironic that a guy who wrote a book about running with the bulls can get gored, not once, but twice. But they forget a couple of things. For starters, this isn’t some stupid thrill-seeker adventure travel package for me. I come to Pamplona every year because I’m crazy about the bulls, the culture and the people. I love each of those things very much and cherish my time here. Most of all, however, they fail to remember that I didn’t write how not to get gored. I knew I would get gored eventually — maybe more than a few times. Also, I’ve run more than 300 times and only gotten gored twice. To me, at least, that’s pretty good odds. Rodriguez, for instance, has been gored several times; Lecuona has been gored, too.
So I don’t think it’s ironic that I got gored.
I think it’s obvious.