Running with the bulls

It was a family affair in Pamplona, Spain, for the annual Running of the Bulls. Pictured (left to right) are Mark Dust, Preston, Connie and Chad Barr.

By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Chad Barr is not a “bucket list” guy.
“I live one day at a time. If I find something I want to do, I just go do it,” he said.
But that generally doesn’t require hopping on a plane, flying 5,000 miles and spending three minutes running for his life, trying to avoid a rampaging animal with sharp horns.
That’s exactly what he did, though, albeit with a little coaxing from his uncle.
On Monday, July 10, there Chad was, along with Uncle Mark Dust, standing in the cobblestone street, waiting to run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
You read that correctly. He was not running away from the charging bulls. He was running “with” the bulls. Voluntarily. And he was excited about it.
“We weren’t going to duck and hide,” Chad admitted. “The local Spaniards don’t like that. We were there to actually run with the bulls and do it right.”
And when the three-minute sprint was over, what did Chad have to say?
“We were lucky.”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s much more to this story.
Chad, now 38, was born and raised in Effingham. He graduated from St. Anthony High School in 1998. He, along with his father and sister, Carissa Walton, own Barr Construction.
The planning for a vacation to Spain actually began five years ago. But due to health concerns experienced by his parents – Preston and Connie Barr – that trip was delayed until this year.
And that trio was joined by Uncle Mark, who lives in London, England, and was only a couple hours away. In addition to Pamplona, they spent time in Barcelona and even a couple days at Mark’s home in London before returning to Effingham.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better,” Chad said. “And when I mentioned the running of the bulls, he was interested and suggested we do that.”
The history of the bull running in Pamplona is not clear. It’s part of the Festival of San Fermin and honors the priest and patron saint. There is evidence the festival began as far back as the 13th century, but it is known to have continued virtually uninterrupted since 1592 when it was moved from September to July.
The running of the bulls began as a way to move the bulls from Pamplona’s corral to its bullfighting arena. The animals would run the roughly half-mile stretch as children and adults herded them with shouts and sticks. Sometime in the 1800s, runners then began to join in.
As one might imagine, running with an angry, half-ton bull on your heels is not a particularly safe pastime. Since 1924, 15 people have been killed and more than 200 seriously injured. The last death occurred in 2009.
But it’s easy to enter.
“A lot easier than what you would think,” Chad said. “There’s no signing up and no fees. You just have to be in the running area by 7:30 a.m. The bulls are released exactly at 8 a.m.
“They do suggest you wear all white with a red sash. That’s in honor of the San Fermin,” Chad explained.
The festival is scheduled for July 7-14 each year and draws more than one million visitors to this Spanish city of 195,000 people.
“It was crowded everywhere we went. The city was overwhelmed by people,” Chad added.
There is a bull run each morning of the festival. Between 5,000 and 6,000 runners participate daily; all trying to elude a dozen bulls.
“The white and brown bulls have bells on them,” Chad noted. “They know the route and keep the black fighting bulls moving in the right direction. When that gate opens, these bulls are ready to go. They will trample you and run over you.”
The event has some traditions. One of those is gathering in front of the statue of San Fermin and saying three prayers – five minutes, three minutes and one minute before the gates are opened. The gates are about 25 yards from the first group of runners.
At 8 a.m., a rocket is shot off that signals the gate is open. A second rocket is fired when all the bulls are out of the corral.
“That’s when things start getting antsy,” Chad said. “People get excited or scared. They know the bulls are coming and things start getting a little rough. But the bulls are only half the problem. The other problem is all those runners.”
Chad and Mark had plans of staying together. That plan failed instantly as the two were quickly separated. Chad was about two seconds ahead, but when he looked back, he saw Mark get shoved into a concrete wall.
“But I had to keep running. I could hear the bulls coming,” Chad recalled. “We had done our due diligence and walked the route.”
They actually arrived in Pamplona a couple days earlier. They rented a balcony overseeing the route and watched the bulls run.
“We had a bird’s eye view of what we were dealing with,” Chad said. “We knew there were areas you did not want to get caught. One of those was a place they call Dead Man’s Curve. That’s where most of the people get smashed and gored.”
But Chad was unable to follow the path he wanted and found himself in the middle of the street.
“I knew I was in a bad spot,” he admitted. “I could see Dead’s Man Curve ahead and I could actually hear the bulls breathing behind me. I knew they were close.”
As he neared Dead Man’s Curve, Chad heard a man screaming. He had fallen and broken his foot. Somehow, Chad grabbed the man and pulled him toward the buildings. The two found a small doorway and were able to stay out of harm’s way.
“The bulls were on the sidewalk. There was nowhere to go,” Chad continued. “The bulls running by me were within a foot.
“But I was wise to not keep running,” he added. “I saw a guy behind me get hit by one bull and then run over by the next three bulls. I saw another guy right at Dead Man’s Curve just get completely destroyed. The whole thing went by quickly, but there were people that got hurt.”
Chad said there were six or seven runners in pretty bad shape. Fortunately, medics are posted along the route to help those that are injured. And the hospital is only three minutes away.
“The stories you read or the things you see on TV don’t tell the whole story,” Chad noted. “I saw six or seven that were hurt just in the area I was in. I saw guys on stretchers with neck braces on. If you get here and do it the way you’re supposed to, people are going to get hurt. There are going to be bumps, bruises, cuts and worse. Uncle Mark hurt his arm when he was pushed into the wall.”
A third rocket is set off once all the bulls have entered the bullring and a fourth, and final, rocket means the bulls are in the bullpen and the run is officially finished.
The entire course is just 900 yards long and the whole thing takes three minutes or less.
“But it’s an adrenaline rush,” Chad said. “About three hours after the race, I was still jacked up.”
Shortly after the run, Uncle Mark made a suggestion that the entire group agreed on.
“He suggested we get a drink. The stores were open, so Mark and I, plus mom and dad, went and had a beer. Matter of fact, we had a couple.”
What’s next for Chad?
“I have no idea,” he said. “But if somebody calls and wants to go do something, I’m probably going to do it.”
How about running with the bulls again?
“I have absolutely no burning desire to do that ever again.
“Unless Uncle Mark wants to.”