Success Secrets from Pamplona

Ruben Gonzalez
May 14, 2012

Ruben Gonzalez

Incredible Olympic Story - Business Author - Award Winning Speaker

by Four-time Olympian Ruben Gonzalez

We stood for hours in the plaza trying to stay warm in the chilly Pyrenees Mountain morning. There were about 3000 people of all ages from all over the world drawn to Pamplona by the mystique of running with the bulls.

You could feel the tension rise as the time got closer to 8:00 AM, the time when six bulls and several steers would be released to run through the cobblestoned streets of Pamplona. The half mile course is only 15 to 20 feet wide. There is no place to escape and since bulls can run much faster than people, in time, everyone will be overtaken by the bulls.

The Bull Run only takes about 3-4 minutes. Albeit, the most dangerous and exhilarating three minutes of your life.

There are always injuries. So many injuries that there are emergency medical crews and ambulances every 50 yards. Someone will be hurt today. Occasionally someone will lose their life. In 1995 a 22 year old American was gored to death less than 30 seconds after the beginning of the run. His first...

What drives people to risk their lives running with the bulls? Some say you feel most alive when you are nearest death. Others run for the challenge. Personally, I just think its fun, exciting, and exhilarating.

Before going to Pamplona I took the same approach I take with everything. I seeked knowledge from the experts. I read three books about Pamplona - several times. I contacted one of the authors - a man who’s been running for 30 years, to pick his brain. Then, I spent many hours watching videos of the Bull Run to study the paths different runners took as they ran.

At first, the videos just looked to me like a horde of people running for their lives. After watching the videos over and over again, I started to see well defined patterns. All of a sudden, the things I had read about in the books started to make sense. I realized that there is a right way and a wrong way to run with the bulls.

I did my homework and that made all the difference.

What did I learn from all my study? I learned a handful of insights that drastically reduced my risk and turned a potentially deadly adventure into a science - into a strategic challenge.

Just like in business and in life, you find two types of people in the Bull Run. There are the amateurs who show up, wing it, and often get hurt. And there are the professionals. The experts who armed with knowledge and skill rarely get hurt.

95% of the people are amateurs. 5% are the pros. The experts. The winners. Just like in business. Just like in life.

What did I learn from my research? I learned simple things that made a huge difference in my Pamplona experience.

First and most importantly, make sure to run sober and watch out for the drunks. There were lots of them out there. The drunks are more dangerous and more unpredictable than the bulls. The drunks trip, fall and cause human pileups that you have to hurdle as you run down the street.

Secondly, if you fall, cover your head and stay down. The bulls will jump over you. If you get up, you become a big target and you could easily get hurt.

Thirdly, tie your sash in a slip knot. Everyone in Pamplona dresses the same way during the Fiesta. White shirt, white pants, red bandana around the neck, and a red sash around the waist. If you tie your sash in a double knot (like 95% of the amateurs did) and a bull’s horn hooks your sash, the bull will drag you along the streets with your head bouncing off the cobblestones the whole way. Not the best way to spend your time in Spain.

In life and in business, simple things can make a huge difference.

Finally, where do you run?

The half mile course has five sections. Most deaths have occurred at the beginning and at the end. Most injuries and gorings occur at a sharp right hand curve in the middle of the course. Stay away from those three areas unless you have been running for many years.

The whole time you are running you are deep in a narrow canyon made up of 10 story buildings on either side of the narrow streets. You are in the shade the whole time except right before you enter “Dead Man’s Curve” or “La Curva” as it is known in Pamplona. Right before “La Curva” you are blinded by the early morning sun. The bulls are blinded as well and they slip on the moist cobblestones and slam into the retaining wall at the far side of the curve. Many injuries occur here when the runners get pinned by the falling bulls.

The experts told us to begin the run about 50 yards past “La Curva” on the right side of the street. Why? Because the bulls tend to run on the left side of the street after passing “La Curva.” By starting the run from the right side, you have a chance to gradually approach the bulls as you run down the long straightaway past the curve.

The top runners position themselves in the middle of the street and try to run right in front of the bulls’ horns for as long as they can before they are overtaken. We were happy to run beside the bulls. Close but not too close. We were actually running “from the bulls” not “with the bulls.”

There is a bull run every morning for the 8 days of the Fiesta. I was there three days. I watched the first day and ran the second and the third. I’m still a beginner at this. Like everything else, practice makes perfect. I think it will take at least 2-3 years of running all 8 days to learn the basics. And then a lifetime to master the basics.

So what does all of this have to so with success? Everything! Whenever you are about to try anything new, something that looks too hard and too risky to be worthwhile, do what high achievers everywhere do. Don’t try to figure it out on your own. You don’t know what you don’t know and what you don’t know can hurt you.

Rather, find the experts. Learn from the best. Then give yourself a couple of years to learn the basic skills by taking consistent and persistent action. By doing that, in time you will become the

expert others turn to for advice. By pursuing excellence in everything you do you will make your life a masterpiece.

Put It into Action:

Don’t wing it. Do your due diligence. Find the experts and learn from them. Manage your risks and win big. 

Ruben Gonzalez is a four-time Olympian, a bestselling business author and an award-winning keynote speaker. For information on how to bring him to your next event,


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