With balls of steel and a stomach full of sangria, Andrew Westbrook faces off with Pamplona’s locals.
The rocket rises into the sky and thousands of people collectively gulp.
It’s eight in the morning, I’ve not slept after a day of drinking my bodyweight in sangria and that firework means there’s now half a dozen bulls charging at me.
For protection I have a rolled up newspaper.
I’ve never felt so awoke or sober. In fact, I’m absolutely shitting myself.
I’m in Pamplona, in northern Spain, for the annual San Fermin festival, during which people test their nerves for eight days straight.
I’m stood a few turns into the 825 metre course, to give me a chance of making it inside the stadium at the end before the gates are closed when the final bull passes through.
The cobbled medieval streets are stiflingly claustrophobic.
It is clear that everyone is having second thoughts. Everyone is on edge.
But it’s too late. The bulls are seconds away and there is no escape.
We start walking, my heart pounding so hard I wouldn’t be surprised to see it suddenly burst out of my chest.
People around me start jogging. Runners nervously jostle each other, searching for a safer spot while knowing than none exists. I keep my eyes on the ground, watching my steps. I’ve been warned the chances of being injured by a frantic runner are far greater than getting gored by a bull.
The whole gauntlet is meant to last three minutes. The bulls haven’t reached me but already it feels like I’ve been going for hours. Waiting for what is tearing up behind us is pure terror.
On their way are six fighting bulls, each a raging, terrified tonne of solid muscle and sharp horns. Two herds of stampeding bullocks follow them for good measure.
The street is narrow, suffocating. It’s enclosed on either side by buildings rising up several storeys, on each of which is a balcony impossibly overloaded with spectators.
Suddenly flashes start going off everywhere. I look up to figure out what’s going on and realise it’s thousands of cameras going off.
People are screaming and pointing. After a second of confusion, the horrific reason for why people are taking photos dawns on me – the bulls are here.
I look behind and see the crowd parting. For the briefest moment I watch the lead bull as it thunders through the runners… And then all hell breaks loose.
The flashing cameras disappear, as do the people. Only fear remains.
I have no doubt whatsoever that world records are broken. I don’t even think I’m running, I’m flying. At some point I remember one bull passing, and another, and another.
People fall, there’s nothing I can do and no way I’m going to stop.
I turn a corner and realise I’m on the final straight. I can see the stadium. The gates are still open, which is good and bad. Good because that means I have a chance of making it in. Bad because that means there are still bulls behind me, bulls that might decide to maul me to death.
And then I trip. Catching a cobble, one of my trainers somehow comes off and I tumble to the ground as the melee sweeps over me.
I scramble after my shoe, crouching down to hurriedly put it on, clinging to the side barrier.
But standing up to carry on, I’m suddenly aware of the crowd, hanging over the fence, screaming at me.
Realising this can mean only one thing, I turn, heart in mouth.
The final bull is charging right at me, hugging the fence, the same fence I’m stood next to.
Arms reach for me, desperate to pull me up, desperate to save me. But there’s no time. And even if there was, it would be useless as I’m completely frozen.
Terrified like never before, I’m unable to do anything but stare as the bull rips up the gap between us.
However this bull, for some reason, decides to spare me.
Brushing past my taut body, it swerves at the last second and I watch as those deadly horns gallop off into the stadium. Dazed but euphoric, I follow a second later.
By Andrew Westbrook