Running the bulls with a Pamplona veteran: ‘This could be your last day on Earth’

Twenty five years is a long time, all the longer if you have run the famous Pamplona encierro for every single one of them.  Forty one year old father of four Juan Pedro Lecuona tells Gusto Guides why he just can’t resist running with the bulls year after year.

– 25 years of running with the bulls seems like a lot for a man who is only in his early forties.  How did you start and why do you carry on?

We Navarrans grew up trying to emulate the best runners, that tradition runs very deep. As you grow up you decide whether to try it for real, whether to risk it or not.  When you decide to take the step of putting yourself in front of the wild bulls, it’s a very big decision, but we have the right to get it wrong.  By getting it wrong you learn.  I started running with the bulls in Pamplona the 14th of July 1989 with bulls from the herd of Don Eduardo Miura.  I was sixteen years old.  I carry on doing it because I am addicted to the way it makes you feel.

Juan Pedro Lecuona, en acción (con camiseta del Real Madrdi). / Foto gentileza de

Has the running of the bulls changed over the years you have been taking part?

The encierro [running of the bulls – ed] has changed in the same way that all of our lives change.  For better or for worse, without wanting to enter into whether I like it more or not, it has changed in different ways just like life itself.  The people who come to run with the bulls tend to be just as daring as before, if not more, because those who came before didn’t have the same information or communication available with new technologies.

Are you still as scared as you were the first time?

Actually, I think I might be more afraid than the first time.  It’s a psychological battle.  When I started to run I wanted to convince myself that I was afraid of nothing, but as the years went by my doubts and fears grew, especially when I married Begoña, the mother of my four children, Ibai , Iraia , Odei and Naroa.

What advice would you give to someone running with the bulls for the first time?

Anybody who wants to run the encierro at San Fermin has to know how violent the run is.  They need to know that this could be their last day on earth, that a bull could snatch their life away.

The town council in Pamplona makes information about the encierro available in different languages, so that people know about the risks involved.  The advantage that someone from Pamplona has over a stranger is that they know what not to do.

Have you ever seen another runner get caught?  Did it make you think about quitting?

We have had the experience of knowing, sharing and living with other experienced runners who ran their last encierro, the encierro that led to their passing away.  Others among us have had more luck (‘for now’), and not without luck have run an infinity of different races, an infinity of falls, bruises, sutures, broken bones, swipes of the horn and, in 2010, a goring from a miura bull named ‘Cachero’.  He weighed 655kg.

What is the relationship like between the veteran runners?  Is there really competition to get in front of the bulls?

I am lucky enough to have fellow runners who would risk their lives to save mine, as would I for theirs.  The relationship is like life in general.  I like to think about the positive things.  In certain aspects you either connect or you don’t; we all have a yardstick in our relationships, we know who we get on well with.  One think I know for sure is that I run for personal satisfaction, not competiton or rivalry, and at the end of the day, the secret of the encierro is life.  Putting your life on the line to grow again.

Bonus: What to see in Pamplona in a weekend

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