Running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain: The San Fermin Festival

The running of the bulls (In Spanish: encierro) involves hundreds of people running in front of six bulls and another six steers down an 825-meter (0.51 mile) stretch of narrow streets of a section of the old town of Pamplona. The run ends in the Pamplona’s bullring taking an average of around 3 minutes where the bulls are held until the afternoon’s bullfight when they will be killed. The Bull runs are held between 7 and 14 July and a different “encaste” which is a sub-breed of the bull appears each day. The history of the running is stuff of legend and it makes you want to be apart of it. The day  I ran happened to be one of the fastest running ever!

Running with the bulls is one of those bucket list items and it is something I have been wanting to do ever since I heard about it. So I decide to run with a friend from college who was there with his Dad and brother. It ended up being one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever done. So I want to share with you my experience of how I got there and what I did to run with the bulls!!!

Getting to Pamplona, Spain

I flew into Barcelona for a long weekend with some friends to party and drink sangria. I spent the weekend exploring the town, riding bicycles, and relaxing by the beach. After a few days of this it was time to head out to Pamplona. I found the best way to get there was by train from Barcelona Sants. However, I did not take into account the demand for tickets heading to Pamplona. The San Fermin Festival had just started a day before so the mass rush of tourist that were heading there was more than I expected. I also had a Eurorail Pass but that did not help me at all. I had to take the next available train because I did not go in advance to buy my ticket. Dumb move! So go in advance to get your tickets!!!! So I hopped on the next available train that left around an hour later.

The train was supposed to take around 3 hours and 45 to get to Pamplona with the multiple stops along the way. The second train not quite as nice as the first one but I could deal with that but when our AC went out let me tell you that it was no fun. Spain just happend to receive a heat wave out of North Africa that weekend so it was unusually hot! So we sat there sweating for an hour and then the conductor said something in Spanish which ended up being we are stopping in the middle of nowhere.

So there we are sitting in the middle of the Spanish desert, well at least it looked like it, waiting on a replacement train to arrive. It took around an hour for it to show up but once the train arrived we switched over and proceed onward to Pamplona.

Pamplona Train Station

Once I got to the station I messaged my buddy and meet them up at the main bus station in downtown. We walked around and got the feel of the place and did got food. After meeting up and filling up on local food we decided to walk the course and see the old town. I would highly recommend walking the course the day before when it clears out. This way you can see get the feel of the course. Plus this will let you get some sweet pictures of the area before its all crowded.

While you’re out shopping be sure to pick up the traditional running outfit. Which you can pick up all over town for around 20-25 Euro (The left: shopping for my running outfit). Make sure you stop by the starting line to grab a picture because it might be the last time you see it(on the right)! If you notice in the picture on the right it has a time written saying 0800. That is when it starts.

We strolled around town for a bit exploring and ending up drinking wayyy to late. This ended up being a bad idea!

Morning of the Run

bull-run-map
Course Map

As recommended we woke up at 0530 to make sure we got to the staging area especially early. There are thousands of people wanting to run but only a few hundred get to. So we staged up in the area with the biggest space in front of city hall. We stood there for about two hours waiting and as it grew closer to 0800 so grew the crowd. As it got closer to the starting time we were so packed you almost couldn’t move.

 The area became packed and incredibly hot but luckily we all brought bottles of water but that even became a task with how packed in we were. Luckily as the time grew closer the police and staff cleared out most of the people at front and back half of the course. See there are certain places you want to be in order to run. Standing in front of the city hall ends up being the perfect place to stand. There is lots of room and you get pretty much the whole course to run. There are some things you cannot do while waiting or running such as being drunk, trying to take selfies while running or throwing up. The last one is a big no no especially for everyone around you because that’s just nasty! However, the staff will pull you because they will assume you have been drinking and don’t want you to be a hazard to yourself or anyone else.

The Running of the Bulls

The start of the run is initiated by the sound of an exploding rocket but before that you start to notice the crowd spreading out. This is because the staff has cleared out the course and the people that are left are free to choose where they want to start from. We chose to get along the bend in front of the city hall and run together. Let me tell you, any plan you have about running is out the window once that rocket sounds and people start taking off. That’s when the crowd starts to come running toward you with a sense of panic and excitement in the air.  My advice would be to take the inside corners on the turns because the bully are heavy and not very agile on the cobble stone streets. They tend to run wide and fall around dead man’s corner because of how sharp of a turn it is. After this corner is a straight away with only one escape about halfway down till the end of the course so be prepared. You really only need to worry if a bully is separated from its pack because that is when they tend to gore people who get too close. Keep running and watch out for the other runners because they will push you out of the way even if that means shoving you to the ground. At this point you will be nearing the entrance of the stadium and you will have to choices of what to do next:

  1. Enter the stadium
  2. Exit the course through the railing before you enter the stadium (you are finished)

Entering the Stadium


When you finish running most people opt to run into the stadium through the tunnel entrance and rejoice they finished alive! or for people like me who didn’t know any better just follow the crowd and wander what was happening. Once all the bulls run into the stadium they follow the heard into the corrals and stands taking selfies and pictures with the crowd in the stands cheering! About 10 minutes or so after the last bull is in they start a count down. I had no idea what this meant so I just stood there…what was happening was a countdown to the release of smaller bulls that have their horns taped (so they don’t gore you). This is where brave challengers can test their courage and stand in front of the bull. Now these bulls will charge you and knock the crap out of you if they get a chance! So be light on your feet! A girl next to me got straight knocked out cold and I had to pick her up and carrier to the medics on the side of the arena wall! Crazy!!! Also, don’t think your safe standing behind the 6 foot walls because as one of the bulls was charging at me I ran and jumped the wall and to my surprise so did the bull!!!! HOLY CRAP!!!!

 

When the round is over with the small bull there is a countdown on the giant screens and they release a large bull into the ring to hear the smaller one back in. This is when some brave souls will lay down in front of the tunnel and let the bulls jump over them! I talking like people staked three or four people high!! That’s pretty ballsy!!

So this happens in waves for about 45 minutes or so and then it’s over again and they open the gates back up to let you out. This is the part I didn’t know about so I was stuck in there separated from my group the whole time. At this point they open it all up and you wander out into the streets and its around 0900-0930 and people are drinking their celebratory beers! After meeting up with my group that’s exactly what we did!

While this was my experience yours will vary slightly depending on how you decide to do the run. However, be prepared and take it seriously because people die every year and even more a injured!

Watching the Bull Fight


So if you are interested in watching the bull fight in the evening it’s around 1800 or 6pm the same day. So the bulls you ran with will be the ones that the matadors are fighting. In Pamplona the arena is divided by shade. So how this was explained to be by a local was that the shaded half was more expensive, where the bull fighting connoisseurs sit and they are very quite. Now the sunny side is cheaper because of how ridiculously hot it is due to sitting directly in the sun the whole time! Also, this side is where the party is at! I picked up my ticket from a scalper at the entrance for around 30 USD and I was in the front row! The people I sat with were so generous and kind! They fed me food, sangria and Cuban cigars!!  What was interesting is that the locals that I was with didn’t really care much for the fighting. They were just there to party and celebrate! This arena is a unique setting due to how much of a party it was because as it was explained to me by the locals was that only here is it loud and raucous as the rest of the arena it is silent and serious. So if you can try and make it out to the fights but beware that it is a fight to the death and it is BLOODY! It was an amazing time and something you should do if you have the time and money.

I hope this helps and if you have any questions leave a comment or shoot me an email at therovingbackpacker@gmail.com

Be sure to check out my gear list for things you might need while traveling!

And remember the running is every JULY!!! So share this with your friends so you can make the run!!!!!

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