The adrenaline.

The panic and confusion.

The exhilaration!

San Fermin, or the Running of the Bulls, the now somewhat controversial festival begins in a few days in Pamplona, Spain. It really is a ridiculous festival given thought: a handfull of bulls run through the streets of a small Spanish town while thousands of people stand in their way, then quickly get out of their way.

And what better way to prepare for this unusual event than to learn how not to die there. Every year there is news of at least one person seriously injured, occasionally dead. This happened when I was there in 2010 not 30 metres up the path from me.

But don’t let this stop you from having a good time. The odds are most certainly in your favour if you know a bit about what you’ve gotten yourself into. Use these tips to make sure you stay alive.

San Fermin before dawn
We got there before well dawn.
  • The bulls run every day for 8 days so unless you plan on running all of them or you are pressed for time, sit the first one out. Find a good vantage point and see how the magic unfolds.
  • On the day you run, get there early. Really early. As the festival grows in popularity, so do the amount of people wanting to run. When there are too many people lined up the police will force everyone from a certain point onwards to leave. This will allow you to get a good starting point and leads me to my next point.
  • Choose your starting point nearer to the beginning, but not too far. The closer you are to the start, the less chance you have of being kicked out due to overcrowding. However, the further forward you are the more likely you are to make it into the stadium before they close the doors. It’s a balancing act.
  • Run near the outside of the road and take tight corners. It is inevitable that when the bulls come, people will disperse. Make it easy for yourself by already being there. The bulls are also not great at taking corners so if you get stuck on a corner as they come round, they will take it wider than you will.
san fermin Running of the Bulls
Getting ready to run
  • Look over your shoulder. This is obvious, but the bulls arrive very quickly and if you are not ready you’ll know about it.
  • If you want to make it into the stadium with the bulls you will need to stay ahead of the second pack of bulls (yes there are two). The doors close immediately after them. You will still be able to watch what goes on in the arena but it will be from the stands.
  • Finally: DON’T TOUCH THE HORNS! Touching the bulls in any way is actually prohibited. This is especially true of the horns and if the bull doesn’t attack you for it the locals certainly will. I saw a number of people get dropped for grabbing on to the bulls’ horns in the arena. Though if you do feel so inclined then by all means, it was plenty entertaining for us spectators.
san fermin Running of the Bull
Packed in tight at San Fermin

Basically if you use some common sense you’ll be fine, the people who get gored are generally those that try and be heroes or think that they are invincible. Below is an excerpt from my travel journal that I wrote shortly after running. Read in conjunction with the video below. It still gets my heart pumping just watching it.

So we are on the road waiting, it’s about 7:58 and we hear a fire cracker go off. This means “start running, we’ll give you a bit of a head start”. For whatever reason most don’t start running then. About 30 seconds later another one goes off saying: “the bulls have been released, run for your lives!!”

You can see this in the video but everyone is jumping to try and see the bulls coming. Once they realize you can’t see them we all turn and start running, the moment of truth has arrived.

It’s all very panicky, you are running trying to dodge so many people. I rounded a corner and noticed everyone screaming and moving to the sides, I turned around and saw a clear path behind me and thought “oh crap, here they come”.

Sure enough, before I knew it, about 45 seconds in to the race the bulls run past.

san fermin arena
Bull vs humans in the arena

My heart was pumping. So I start running again, which turns in to more of a light jog than anything and sure enough, there is a second lot, but they are much slower and seemingly less dangerous. They passed me safely and I thought “I need to keep up with these guys because the doors to the arena shut after them.” I missed out by about 15 metres.

But that was ok, I watched from the arena for a bit and it actually looks fairly dangerous in there. There was one bull in there and loads of people and it was just charging.

I must have seen about 10 people knocked around by it in a matter if minutes. Best part was though if someone grabbed on to the horns of a bull (which a few people did) the locals would just attack them. So many punches were thrown, it was awesome.

san sebastian
Spending the day at San Sebastian

Afterwards we decided we all wanted a nap, but also there’s nothing to actually do in Pamplona if not being chased by four-legged, horned beasts, so we went to the beach in San Sebastian again, fully intending to sleep on the beach, which I did, for 2 hours.

This is the video I took while running. It only goes for a minute or two and gives a real sense of the event like you are there. I’d love to know what you think. And if you’ve ever been or thinking about going, I’d love to hear about how your experience differed.


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