SHENANDOAH – Police Detective Sergeant Mark V. Denham marked his 50th birthday by joining the annual Pamplona Bull Run in Spain. Traditionally known as the Festival of San Fermin, but commonly called the “Running of the Bulls” (or “Encierro” in Spanish), the event kicks off a weeklong celebration in July that draws people from around the world. The festival dates back to the 14th century, when it had mainly religious origins. As it evolved into its modern format, revelry, drinking, street theater, markets and bull running were added and the religious focus faded.
The main event is the actual running which begins each morning at 8:00a.m. after a rocket is fired and six bulls and six steers are released from a holding corral. The run is a half mile course through narrow cobblestone streets ending at the third largest bullfighting ring in the world. Here the bulls meet their demise later that night at the hands of Matadors. The entire bull run lasts about three minutes and repeats daily for a week, so runners have several opportunities to try their luck with the bulls.
While the act of running with the bulls is not without significant risk, and some runners are injured, sometimes fatally, Detective Denham described it as a major adrenalin rush, and also as one of the most exciting and terrifying things he has ever done. Since he has always been a runner, he was physically ready to take on the challenge.
Detective Denham began planning the trip about two years prior to his 50th birthday. He put a positive spin on turning 50 by giving himself something to look forward to rather than something to worry about. He spent years following the festival and was drawn to the history and culture of the event. Oddly enough, while waiting in the street for the releasing of the bulls on the second day of the run, he also met several Houston firefighters who were participating in the event.
He is no stranger to traveling, having studied abroad in England at the University of London, and has been to The Netherlands, Poland, Bulgaria, France and other places around the world. Detective Denham also has visited Mexico on a yearly basis for about 10 years while leading medical and construction teams as part of a mission program.