Achievement Lessons I Learned While Running With The Bulls In Pamplona Spain

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  Teddy Roosevelt in 1910

I recently traveled to Pamplona, Spain with my wife of 38+ years to check off a bucket list adventure… Running with the Bulls during the Festival of San Fermin.  For those of you who do not know, this is like the Super Bowl of Bull Running where regional champions run with international champions and first timers like me.  Along with the Bull Runs each morning, there is a party that surpasses all parties for an 8 day period every July.  Suffice it to say, it is a great time with wonderful food, parades and people from all over the world converging on Pamplona The city is located in Northern Spain near the border with France. As I prepared for and participated in the Bull Run on July 11, I noticed some interesting lessons about achievement that I would like to pass along to you.  They can help you in achieving your life dreams, achieving your professional dreams and living life to the fullest.

If you want to experience great achievements, set your goals high and take ownership of them. Your goals are your goals and yours alone.  Although the Bull Runs in Pamplona have been going on since the 1500’s, not many of the world population has seen it or participated in it.  Ernest Hemingway brought the Festival of San Fermin and its Bull Runs  to the world’s attention after he fell in love with them and wrote about them in his award-winning novel of 1926 “The Sun Also Rises“.  As a teenager, I learned about the Bull Runs, the dangers they posed and dreamed about putting myself in this historic setting to run with some of the meanest fighting bulls in the world.  I was just a poor boy in a small town in West Texas.  How dare I talk of such foolishness of traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to a foreign country just to pit myself with Bulls who are bred just to fight!  Over the years, I would mention my dream in passing and most people either laughed or thought I was crazy.  I am not crazy and I never let go of my dreams…never.

If you want to experience great achievements, you have to prepare and plan.  Pamplona is a relatively small city and it is not easy or inexpensive to get there.  That being said, many Europeans travel there by train each year and now many Americans make the journey. Over 2 million people descend on the city each July. Getting there involves planes, trains, buses and automobiles.  Getting a hotel room during the festival is almost impossible if you are a procrastinator.   Getting a well placed hotel room is even more difficult.  In other words, you don’t just wake up one day and decide to go run with the bulls.  The logistics of travel, meals and lodging requires many hours of preparation and planning.

If you want to experience great achievements, get a coach/mentor.  All types of people end up in Pamplona.  Many were like me, running for the first time.  I am always amazed at how many people want to achieve great accomplishments but never get a coach or a mentor.  The best at any sport you can think of all have coaches.  EVERY one of them.  Golfers, race car drivers, football/baseball players all have coaches who help them get that extra edge and keep it.  Great leaders have all had mentors who have helped guide them and lend support and been there when they needed to just talk.  We seem to forget this when it comes to raising a family or excelling professionally.  We think we can just “wing it” and then wonder why things don’t work out the way we were planning.  I searched long and hard and hired a coach to help me walk through the path the bulls (and I) would run the next day.  He explained the rules of the run (yes, like anything else, there are rules).  He helped me pick a key spot to start my run.  He also gave me some feel of what to expect (sheer panic and fear in the crowd) and how to position myself when the bulls begin to close in.  This gentleman had run with the bulls in Pamplona for the past 12 years, every day.  That means he had run with the bulls almost 100 times.  He was injured by the bulls and the crowd of runners several times.  His experience and advice were invaluable.  One of the best investments I made for the adventure.  Get a coach/mentor for your life and/or professional adventures.  The investment will be multiplied many times.

If you want to experience great achievements, know the rules and follow them.  I mentioned before, there are rules to running with the bulls.  Most first timers do not know them.  No cameras, no hats, no glasses, no backpacks, proper footwear, start in the proper spot not just anywhere on the path, the race participants have to be in place by a certain time, never touch the bulls, etc.  Many first timers travel all the way to Northern Spain, take off from work, spend thousands of dollars only to be removed from the crowd by the local police who are trying to protect the runners safety.  These people just become part of the thousands of onlookers. My coach helped me with many of these things.  I heard several people talk to others around us that they knew the rules but they were going to try to do “X” or “Y” and get away with it.  All but one were pulled out by the police.  The other one got away with carrying a cell phone.  I later found out he was trampled by a bull while he was trying to take a picture.  He was taken to a local hospital for surgery due to a broken leg and spent the next 3 days of his vacation with his family visiting him in that hospital room.  We do that in life too, don’t we?  We know what time we are expected to be at work.  We know what tools will be required to complete a task yet we try to take short cuts and ignore the rules only to fail and have to start over.  How do you achieve great accomplishments when you are always starting over?

If you want to experience great achievements, separate yourself from the pack or you will get run over.  It’s called running WITH the bulls for a reason.  It is not beating the bulls, riding the bulls, stopping the bulls.  These bulls weigh about 1200 lbs.  It is incredible to believe they run this half mile path faster than any human can possibly do it.  They run FAST!  They travel in a herd and they do not want anything to get in their way.  They are 4 years old, bred to fight and they can and will stake out their territory without any hesitation.  A professional boxer once said, “Everyone has a plan when they step into the ring until…. they get punched in the mouth.”  My coach warned me about the sheer panic that sets in when the bulls are released from their pin and they start running into the crowd of participants on the path.  Everything was jolly and there was plenty of macho hormones flowing as we all gathered before the start.  My fellow runners seemed to have great plans until the bulls were turned loose.  I have lots of pictures of the run and, if you zoom in, you can see the utter panic and fear on the faces of many in the pathway of the bulls.  There were people screaming, people trying to climb the fence, people falling, people pushing and people who just stood still with that deer in the headlight look.  I was coached to find a space to separate myself from the pack to keep from getting run over by either the bulls or my fellow runners.  As I ran, I had a runner across from me go down in front of the bulls.  They trampled him causing a neck injury and resulting in a stretcher trip to the ambulance and then the hospital.  Because of my coach, I was able to maintain space around me allowing me to run alongside the bulls.  I had to jump over others who had fallen and keep my balance when others began pushing me in a direction I did not want to go.  As teenagers, we get peer pressure to be part of the pack in order to have friends.  At work, we fail to speak up about destructive leadership so we are not shunned.  In our families, we let bad behavior continue because it just seems easier in the short run.  If you want to be different, to accomplish things others cannot, you have to separate yourself from the pack.  There is only one you.  Be YOU! If not, you will continue to just find yourself trampled and left in the dust time and time again.

If you want to experience great achievements, have fun and celebrate your successes.  What I wrote about above was a great adventure.  A dream come true for me.  It took place in a historical setting during the Spanish Festival of San Fermin.  It took place in a party atmosphere.  I cannot explain the utter joy I felt when I realized all the bulls had passed by me, as they make their way into the bullfighting arena.  I was 60 years old and I had finally done it! I survived! To run with some of the best bull runners in the world and alongside some of the most fierce fighting bulls on earth, was exhilarating.  My heart pounded. It was so fun!!!  I walked back down the path and looked up and saw my beautiful wife safely perched on a balcony waiting for me to celebrate.  Great achievements should result in great celebrations!  Both the achievement and the celebrations cause us to be thankful for our blessings as we look to new adventures in the future.

Until next time, peace. 🙂