Rancho Santa Fe residents run with the bulls in Pamplona

Skip Brauburger and Hal Streckert on the streets of Pamplona.
(Courtesy of Hal Streckert)

A pair of adventurous Rancho Santa Fe residents ran with the bulls twice at the Festival of San Fermin this summer.

Skip Brauburger and Hal Streckert were among thousands who traveled to Pamplona, Spain for the nine-day festival in July to take part in the dangerous and thrilling once-in-a-well-lived-lifetime adventure put on the map by Ernest Hemingway in “The Sun Also Rises”.

This summer’s run was Pamplona’s first one since 2019, daredevils were delayed due to the pandemic.

Streckert and Brauburger have known each other for about 15 years, frequently traveling, hiking and exploring together, sharing memorable experiences in Argentina and the Greek island of Corfu.

While this was Brauburger’s first time in Pamplona, Streckert has run with the bulls three times before. During his 2015 run, he ran into a person in front of him and fell to the ground, ending up with a bull right above him. He required stitches in his forehead, but he ran again the next day.

“I always say that you have to get out of your comfort zone to really feel alive,” said Streckert, a retired scientist who is also a skydiver.

After running with the bulls before, Streckert always wanted to return, trying to convince his friend to come along. His trip was planned and postponed by the pandemic.

“I was on the fence about whether I wanted to go or not,” Brauburger said. He was finally persuaded when Streckert showed up with the traditional red scarf worn on the run and he booked a room at the last minute.

They met up in Barcelona before heading to Pamplona together—Spain was part of Streckert’s vacation itinerary, which included stops in the South of France and visiting family in Germany.

At San Fermin, not everybody is there to run, the festival is a big party, “The world’s biggest fiesta”, and the streets fill with revelers. A much smaller crowd dares to run with the bulls every morning. The narrow, cobblestone streets are fenced off with sturdy wooden barricades and the storefronts are temporarily boarded up. There’s no official sign up, if you want to run you just show up. Once you’re inside the barricade, there’s no getting off the ride.

Skip Brauburger, Lori Rogers, Susan Streckert and Hal Streckert in Pamplona.
(Courtesy of Hal Streckert)

Before the run begins, the police come through to make sure everyone is of sound mind and that people are adhering to the strict rules—you can’t have anything loose on you that could get caught up in the bull’s horns. Grabbing, harassing or mistreating the bulls is prohibited. “It’s against the law to touch the bulls but the bulls can touch you,” Streckert said. In the event that they do, hundreds of emergency responders are on site.

The run itself is about 800 meters and runners typically only run part of the route. Santa Domingo Slope is the first stretch of the run where six bulls come out of the Corrallillos de Santo Domingo pens. The men had previously scoped out where they wanted to begin their run on the route, avoiding Dead Man’s Curve for obvious reasons and making sure their ladies, Brauburger’s girlfriend Lori Rogers and Streckert’s wife Susan, had the perfect vantage point to watch them in action from the balcony.

Right at 8 a.m., after the singing of a ritual prayer, a rocket is fired into the sky: “Then you know they’re coming,” Streckert said.

Brauburger said the bulls seemed to be running at warp speed: “You just stay out of the way and they run right next to you,” Brauburger said, while he saw one man get nailed and another sail into the air as if in slow motion, he wasn’t touched by the bulls.

“When you’re running, you’re in a different plane,” Streckert said. “The atmosphere is very electric.”

Everyone is concentrated and all you’re focused on is that moment, he said. Streckert said the amazing thing he loves is that at that time, there are no worries in your mind, you’re not thinking about your house payment or whether you feel hot or cold—you’re just going.

“You just have to run faster than the guy behind you.”

Brauburger said he is grateful to his friend for coaxing him out of his comfort zone and into this exhilarating experience. As Hemingway wrote in “The Sun Also Rises”: “Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it?”

Up next for the adventurers? They would like to try heli skiing.