Jeff Jardine: Running with the bulls and without the camera

08/02/2014 8:24 PM

08/02/2014 8:26 PM

Last weekend, a Vacaville man got his 15 seconds of fame when he was trampled by a ton of fast-moving cross-rib roast during the Great Bull Run at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton.

As they say, mess with the bull, you’ll get the horns.

Moments before being loaded onto a stretcher with his neck in a brace, Justin Triplett got hurt doing what every about-to-be gored, soon-to-be red-bloodied American dude would do: He was taking a selfie.

Ryan Zelenski of Turlock was amused, but not because Triplett had been trampled, or even that he was videotaping himself in the process. Zelenski found it interesting that they do in Pleasanton what he did last month in Pamplona, Spain, where he ran with the bulls in a tradition that began roughly eight centuries ago.

Indeed, the Pleasanton event is modeled after Pamplona’s traditional Running of the Bulls, the one that made its way onto bucket lists ever since Ernest Hemingway wrote about it in “The Sun Also Rises.” Pleasanton’s is Running of the Bulls Lite, so California-ized that the runners wore cargo shorts and T-shirts or tank tops whereas in Spain, they don white shirts and pants and red bandanas and sashes.

Two schools of thought:

“One says it’s to honor San Fermín, a saint (white) who was martyred (red); the other says that the runners dress like the butchers who began this tradition. (The bulls are colorblind, so they don’t care),” travel guru Rick Steves posted on his Web page.

We know that the bulls are colorblind because they never stop on red at intersections. (Neither, when you come to think about it, do some drivers. Ah ... , so being colorblind explains it.)

Zelenski is an elementary school teacher in Winton. He went to Spain like so many others so that he could say he ran with the bulls, and because at age 45, dodging horned beasts wasn’t something he wanted to put off until he is, say, 55.

The Pamplona event began July 6 with opening ceremonies. Each morning thereafter through July 14, roughly 2,500 runners took off each morning with up to a dozen bulls in pursuit, through the streets to the bullfighting arena.

“I ran on Day 2,” Zelenski said. “I didn’t know where to go. I got there at 7:10 (a.m.), thinking I’d be early since we were supposed to be there at 7:30 and it would start at 8.”

He’d ask the locals, and they would point in whatever direction and reply in Spanish, “Just go there.”

When he finally found his starting point, the race was nearly underway.

“I jumped over the fence, and they (locals) probably weren’t very happy with that,” Zelenski said. “And it’s not a good thing to start near the beginning of the race. The bulls are still fresh at that point.”

He discovered what most bull runners learn:

“The danger wasn’t the bulls,” Zelenski said. “It was the people. The people stampede. The bulls don’t. Some of the people were so intoxicated. A lot of them will tell you they drink to have the courage to (run). I don’t drink. I enjoyed the thrill of it.”

So did others, who tried to play chicken with the bulls.

“I ran into several people who were just standing in the way,” Zelenski said. “I was floored. The bulls were coming at them and they stand there right in the way. Are you kidding me? And what people don’t realize is how fast those bulls are. They run about a half-mile in two minutes, with one 45-degree turn and a 90-degree turn, and they do this on wet cobblestone streets. That’s how fast they are.”

After the race, Zelenski saw himself in photos posted on the San Fermin Web page. Several show him stepping over someone who had fallen in front of him as the bulls came at them. But he never got close enough to “feel the bull’s breath,” as some runners claim.

He watched Day 4’s running from the sidelines, and people were trampled just about every day of the festival.

“A man standing right where I was (in the photo) got flipped by a bull,” he said.

Zelenski will tell you that he won’t be coming out of his bull-running retirement. Been there, done that.

“I enjoyed it,” he said. “It was a major thrill and a terrifying moment of life.”

He experienced it in Spain, wearing the white-and-red garb, just as Hemingway depicted it. A great memory, and one his sister recorded for him on DVD.

And there lies one of the many differences between Spain’s Running of the Bulls and the imitators including the Pleasanton event: Selfies are banned in the Pamplona run.

You see, they’ll let you try to outrun a heard of bulls charging down the lane. But recording your own trampling on a cellphone? Man, that’s crazy.

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