I went running with the bulls in Pamplona this year.
If you’re not aware of this particular pastime, it’s like this:
Six bulls run through the streets of the town.
You run in front of them, until they catch up.
Then you run alongside them and let them pass.
It’s known in Spain as the encierro, and the original purpose of it was to move the bulls from their overnight holding pen to the bullring for the day’s bullfighting.
My girlfriend was born in Pamplona, the site of the largest encierro in Spain during the festival of San Fermín. (He’s the patron saint of the town.) The Sanfirmines encierro is broadcast live across Spain throughout the festival.
So I thought it would be nice to run with the bulls one year.
Why not? It looks like fun, it’s something that brings me closer to Loli’s culture and, let’s face it, bullfighting will probably be outlawed within my lifetime. Might as well experience this while I still can.
I’m only planning to do it the once. It’s a young man’s game, and I’m not getting any younger.
There are generally about two or three hundred injuries per year, and a death every four or five years. Unfortunately this year was one of the ones when someone was gored to death by a bull.
Anyone can run with the bulls provided that they’re
- Over the age of 18
- Not drunk or otherwise incapacitated
- On-site before 7:30am
As Laurence Olivier famously asked Dustin Hoffman, is it safe?
Well, provided you take a few simple precautions like knowing where not to run (the outside of the bends – the bulls can’t turn very fast, and might run into you) and what to do if you fall over (stay still – if you move they’ll try and gore you, but if you stay still they’ll ignore you), then it’s actually fine.
The run takes about four minutes. You choose your spot to wait for the bulls to come by, start running before they get to you, and finish when they pass. Don’t wave anything at them, give them room, and don’t touch the buggers. They get riled.
Personally I’d recommend Estafeta. It’s a nice street, quite wide, and there are various shop doorways to duck into should you have to. That’s provided they’re not full of cowering people, of course. It’s actually more difficult to run safely at the edge of the street, as there are more people there for you to stumble into. Took me a while to figure that out.
Through the duration of the festival, it’s traditional to wear a white shirt and trousers, a red neckscarf, and a red sash used as a belt.
When I say “traditional” I mean “practically everyone is wearing this”. You’d better too, if you don’t want to look weird.
So, would I recommend it to you?
Well, yes. There’s a small amount of danger, but not much provided you do a little bit of research beforehand and don’t do anything obviously stupid. And it’s an experience I can carry with me for the rest of my life.
And I think you should try something different, too. Something that you’ve never tried before.
It might be running with the bulls, or skydiving, or rock-climbing, or living in another country for a few months. Each of these has risks – but every day you risk death or injury crossing the road. Life is risk. And all of these risks are manageable.
New experiences make us better people.