Running with the Bulls

In 2018, I had just completed a 500 Mile trek across Spain, known as the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.  I was fortunate enough to have been joined at the end by some of my closest and dearest friends.  

As if the El Camino hadn’t already been an adventure of a lifetime, we decided to end our travels by descending upon Pamplona, Spain, along with a million others, for the Festival of San Fermin.  It is here, where the historical Running of the Bulls occur.  

After months on the El Camino and self-reflection, we collectively decided to put ourselves in a path of destruction.  A sample of how diverse our thoughts and actions can be.  Seeking peace and reflection one moment and testing our limits by flirting with fear the next.

To many, the bull represents power, boldness, stubbornness, determination and courage.  I realize as I write this, the bull may be my Spirit Animal.  We rival each other in stubbornness, and determination.  They are even color blind, only seeing two colors, one of them not even being red.  They are attracted not to color, but to movement.  The same for me…as I am always trying to find my footing to move forward.

The bulls for the festival race, are carefully selected for their size (weighing up to a ½ ton each), nobility, and strength.  During the race, these animals can surprising run between 15-20 MPH down the narrowing street.  They don’t show up for a walk down the hill that’s for sure.

As I lined up that morning, with my closest friends, many thoughts raced through my mind.  Our minds…powerful things, just as powerful as those bulls.  Our thoughts and actions are influenced by what and who we choose to surround ourselves with. 

It wasn’t hours in front of a screen, television, social media or dividing newscasts, that led me here.  It was an accumulation of who I had chosen to surround myself with. [If you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to ride with the best”.]  It was events and life experiences that had provided me a firm foundation…ones that over time had sharpened my resilience.

Although fear [bulls] loomed behind me, I was calmed by my confidence knowing I had been on rocky terrain before.  The cobblestones and slope of Santo Domingo Street below my feet, wasn’t something new.  These feet of mine have carried me through the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, pedaled over the pain of the Rocky Mountains, pounded the frozen tundra of the South Pole, and the thousands of miles in between.   I had lost my footing in situations in the past, but have always been able to get back up, each foot striking ahead.  Past missteps and help from my friends were going to guide me through this next cornerstone.  

As the rockets that signaled the start of the race were fired, I thought of Yoda: “Do or Do Not, there is no Try.”  If you are going to thrust yourself in front of danger, you either move with purpose or be moved by the horns.  I immediately set the intention to move with a purpose and finish the race.  I didn’t step up to the starting line with the thought “I will do my best and see what happens”.  Don’t get me wrong there is a time and place for that thought.  However, this was the time to be pure of intention and purpose.  

This 875 Meter race of adrenaline was a lesson in managing fear.  You can hear the rumbles of the bulls and the quaking of the pavement as they make your way towards you.  Their awesome and powerful presence can be felt.  You know one is near, when human sounds are muffled out and all you can feel is the heat of bull’s harrowing breath on your back.  It brought me back to my days as a Ranger, reminding me how powerful your own mind can be.  Even when in danger you can train your mind to be calm…to not overact as fear races up behind you.  Once your mind is calm, you can run with the fear, keeping it in check beside you…respecting it… but not allowing yourself to become frozen by it.  Then in a flash of a second… the fear passes… and now…you are behind it.  Once conquered, it is amazing how quickly that feeling dissipates.  Once fear has moved aside, other emotions can come in, ones of positivity and accomplishment.    

I liked this race, not because of the notoriety of it, but because of the life lessons that were packed into a mere 30 seconds.  My friends gave me the courage to line up [not once… but twice], I relied on my confidence to carry me through, and I felt fear on my back, remained calmed, kept moving forward.  It all passed, and I lived to fight another day, only this time a little stronger than I was before.