Road to Pamplona: How to Survive the Running of the Bulls
There are few things we can do that are more foolish than attempting to keep up with a wild animal. Bulls are large, beastly animals that are as notorious for their viciousness as they are for their magnificent beauty. And yet, in spite of the danger, there are also few things as thrilling as the annual Pamplona Bull Run in Spain.
Known to the locals as the Fiesta de San Fermin, the running of the bulls is actually a nine-day event, comprised of eight consecutive bovine runs, countless parties, and more celebratory sangria than you could possibly tire of. Each year from the 6th to 14th of July, the tiny cobblestoned streets of Pamplona are blocked off from the corral in Calle Santo Domingo to the bullring at the city center. Starting on the 7th, the 8am dual rockets will be fired, signaling the start of the 825-meter run of your life. The run typically lasts no more than five minutes, but with more than 1,000 pounds of sheer muscle coming at you, it can feel much longer. Of course, the real prize is the celebrations that mark the festival after each run. To be sure you make it that far, we have a few suggestions for how to handle it as safely as possible.
1.) Athleticism – The actual run may be less than 5 minutes, but it’s still something best left to those that at least kind of know what they’re doing. Running on cobblestone streets with hundreds of people and live animals charging behind you is not a joke. It may not be a marathon, but it’s still a run you should probably train at least a little for. If you’re not a professional runner, that’s ok, but it’s important to wear the right shoes, get a good night’s sleep, and make sure you’re not hungover for the big day. Remember, you’re going to have plenty of time to party after you run; there’s no reason to sacrifice your safety.
2) Crowd Control – With all jokes about bulls aside, your real worry should actually be the amount of people that show up for this thing. Keeping this in mind, it’s typically not a good idea to try to run on the first day of the festival. The first day is usually the most popular, meaning you (as a tourist) are more likely to get yanked out by the police and least likely to make it through an entire run without being pushed to the ground by the countless other inexperienced runners. A much better plan is to watch the first day and get all your bearings before attempting it yourself. Look out for the professional bullfighters set up throughout the course, the ‘shepherds’ who run the whole thing, and the actual bulls themselves – seeing the way its run can go a long way in helping to avoid some basic rookie mistakes.
3.) Being ‘That Guy’ – No one likes to admit that they look like a tourist, but even the most experienced roamers can stick out as a first-timer at a festival as popular with locals and returnees as this one. That being said, it’s probably a good idea to remember where you are and what you’re doing. Yes, this is a festival, but it’s also a major cultural event for most of the attendees, so you should probably be on your best behavior as an outsider. Should you party? Absolutely – everyone else will be! But you should also be on the lookout for pickpocketers; careful not to show up drunk on the day you intend to run; and be sure to travel with a buddy if you can. As a final word of warning, do NOT touch the bulls. The bulls are sacred to these people and you’re a guest at their party – play by their rules.
While all the preparation in the world will probably still not have you totally ready for the actual running part, it’s never a bad idea to check out a map of the course, pick your starting point, and ask a couple locals for pointers once you arrive. And when you’re done? Pat yourself on the back and go crazy with some sparking sangria – you did it! Most importantly, remember this festival is about a lot of things – bravery, culture, tradition, some religion in there, I think? – but mostly, it’s a big celebration that you’ve been fortunate enough to join, so be thankful, and enjoy!