Insider tips on how to run with the bulls
Before sharing our tips on how to participate in the Running of the Bulls®, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the history behind this centuries-old tradition. Running with bulls, while not for the faint of heart, was originally born out of a necessity to move the animals from outside Pamplona’s city center to the bullring in town — something that’s been done since the 13th century.
The San Fermin Festival has been held every July since 1592 and the morning bull runs are one of the most highly anticipated events. However, it is not completely clear when citizens began running in front of the bulls rather than behind them. Some records, dating back to 1787, indicate that the tradition of running in front of the horned beasts was long established by that point in time. Interestingly, the original bull run route in Pamplona has changed very little since 1852, giving participants a true taste of what it was like hundreds of years ago.
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Running with bulls is dangerous and unpredictable. Razor sharp horns, hard hooves and 1000+ pounds of thrashing bovine make for a hazardous combination. It cannot be overstated that runners should take proper precautions, educate themselves on runner protocol and never consider running while they are intoxicated. If you are still out partying when the sun comes up, we highly recommend having a designated runner. Wink wink!
If you have your heart set on running, you need to meet other participants in Pamplona’s Plaza Consistorial near the starting point of the route. The advice we offer on how to run with the bulls in Spain is gleaned from veteran runners who have learned from experience how to stay safe and have fun. One of the most important safety rules to remember: if you fall down while running, stay down. Any attempt to get up will bring unwanted attention from the bulls.
First, try and position yourself somewhere at the end of Santo Domingo Street, in front of the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), or the beginning of Mercaderes street by 7:00 AM. Plan on getting there early to secure a good spot. Don’t rely on the crowds to dictate where you’re going as you’ll often see people gathered along Estafeta Street stretching as though they’ll be running. The police make a sweep down Estafeta Street prior to the run, and anyone in this area will be disqualified and forced off the street.
Rockets signal your start
The Pamplona Bull Run begins at 8:00 AM and the runners chant three times to a small statue of San Fermin – placed in a niche in the wall on Santo Domingo Street. The first rocket goes off, letting the runners know the bulls have been released from the corral. You will hear the roar of the crowd and the echo of the bulls’ hooves on the cobblestone streets as the excitement moves in a wave past you. The second rocket signals that all the bulls have left the corral and the third and final rocket signals that the run is over.
For all of their heft, the bulls can careen down the 825-meter (.51 mile) stretch of narrow streets in about 3 minutes – slightly longer if they are distracted or stop to target and possibly gore a runner. Of all recorded bull run deaths in Pamplona, gorings account for the majority.
The bull run route ends in the Plaza de Toros, where they release Vaquillas (young cows with capped horns) into the bullring to toss participants around and amuse the crowd.
Dangers of running with bulls
Since 1910, 16 people have died in Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, mostly from gorings. The most recent fatality took place on July 10, 2009. Every year, between 200 and 300 people are injured during the run. Bruises, scrapes and road rash due to falls are very common, though more serious harm has been documented. A bull run video from 2013 underscores just how dangerous running with the bulls can be. (Warning: this video is very graphic).
Having made the requisite danger disclaimer, the running of the bulls is still considered an integral part of the San Fermin Festival and viewed by many as one of the last traditions that represent the true spirit of Pamplona and the Navarra region.
Please let us know if we can give you any more information on how to run with the bulls, or serve you in any way as you plan for your adventure.
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