A Survivors Guide to the Running of the Bulls

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If Running of the Bulls is on your bucket list I’ve got you covered!

With the European summer coming up the annual voyage of Australian revellers will be getting ready to head abroad. The typical traveller can expect a few months of freedom, sun, adventure and endless hangovers.

One of the most common pilgrimages during this time is for the annual Running of the Bulls San Fermin Festival which runs every day from July 6th to 14th.

Having done the euro circuit myself two years ago I thought I would provide a little insight into the deadest insanity that is the Running of the Bulls.

The Lead Up

A group of mates and I had marked down the event in the early stages of our Euro planning, deciding to stay in the nearby Basque town of San Sebastian. We had the option to stay in town (Pamplona) but decided the 45 minute commute would be an easy task.

We had heard from other travellers that the festival actually started the day before with a huge party celebrating the start of the event in the centre of Pamplona. Taking this advice we thought it smart to save ourselves a night of accommodation by heading to Pamplona the day before with a plan to party all through the night until the bull run early next morning – this would be a regretful decision but more on that later!

Back at our apartment in San Sebastian we suited up in our running gear. Traditionally this consists of long white pants, a white shirt, red belt and red neck scarf. Looking the part we had a celebratory drink, took some snaps and headed into town.

Uniformed bands parade around the town performing. Photo: Flickr Abir Anwar

A Sea of Sangria

Jumping off the bus we were not sure what to expect but knew we were in for a long night. We were immediately greeted by a sea of people, wearing the exact same clothes, chanting, dancing and running around. It is to this day one of the craziest sights I have ever seen.

Not to waste time we quickly bought some sangria before joining the thousands of revellers on the streets. The next few hours consisted of sangria showers, repetitive backpacker conversations and a build up of nerves for the impeding Bull Run.

The race was scheduled for 8:00am the next morning with runners needing to be in position by 6.00am. As the sangria began to wear down, the decision to try and pull an all nighter proved extremely difficult. It was about 3:00am and the reality of what was about to go down began to hit.

‘So there I was thinking that in five hours I had to somehow race some bulls half cut and without a second of sleep’.

We decided to try and catch some shut eye in a nearby park before soon realising it was obviously impossible. The thousands of people kept the party going, music was blaring and fireworks were being set off like clockwork.

My two cents – Book a hotel room in Pamplona get a good night’s sleep and wake up early for the race. As 6:00am rolled by I was a zombie, I smelt of Sangria and the last thing I wanted to do was race a bloody bull!

Making new friends with Sangria. Photo: Flickr Abir Anwar

The Race

The reality of the run is something extremely hard to explain. We made our way to the marshalling area of sorts and local men began to build the track around us, essentially locking us in from the rest of the street. A sea of people once again began to develop and we soon found ourselves squashed at the start line. When I say squashed I mean literally. We were packed in so tight that I could not even raise my arms above my head. The feeling is terrifying and people all around were fainting and throwing up as a result. For a whole hour we had to stand there staring at the massive clock in front of us no option to turn back.

Some revellers continued to chant and with five minutes before start time we were released to try and make our way up the track.

‘The common perception was that in this time you needed to make it past Dead Man’s Corner to stay relatively safe’.

This corner is a 90 degree right hand turn that is home to most of the incidents we see every year from the run. The bulls are travelling at extreme speeds (they run the first 100m uphill in only six seconds) and when they come to this turn they do not have the ability to make a quick turn resulting in many bulls sliding out and across into the wall. If you are in there way there is really only one ending.

As the crowd dispersed I immediately lost my friends and the seriousness of the run became apparent. I ran as fast as I could, made it past the corner and found a small doorway to hide in. All around people were hanging off balconies, light poles or any obstacle they can find. It really is mayhem.

BANG. A firecracker marks the first release of bulls. The yells of “Torro” (Spanish for Bull) can be heard a mile off as can the impeding footsteps of the six beasts. The scramble of people becomes worse and as I sight my first bull I swear my heart stops. I freeze on the spot and pray that the bulls run past without any change of direction. I frantically try to count all six off so I know I am free to continue running.

At this stage I am 100% sober, a mad rush has gone over my body and I am running on pure adrenaline. I know a second set of six slower bulls are still to come but I want to make it to the arena – the pinnacle of the event. I watch the next set go by in a dream like state before racing to the end.

Antonio dressed in tradtional Pamplona festival attire. Photo: Flickr Eduardo Gavina

The Arena

The ultimate goal of the Bull Run is to make it to the arena where a stadium full of people are watching, celebrating your entrance. The moment you enter is pure ecstasy knowing what you have achieved.

It is extremely important to note however that this is by no means a safe zone. In the arena further bulls are released amongst the thousands of people on ground level. This is where things get crazy and you see people taunting and jumping over the bulls. It is a truly hectic scene and that was enough for me. I jumped up into the stands to meet some waiting friends and enjoyed the idiots below. My work was done. I had survived the night, survived the run and ticked another thing off my bucket list.

For the rest of the day my body had forgot that I had pulled an all nighter. I was running on pure adrenalin and amazement at what had just happened.

I had completed the running of the bulls, injury free. Not bad for a bloke scared of dogs!

Trapped inside the bull ring. Photo: Flickr Tammy Friesen

Handy Tips

  • Book a room in Pamplona for at least a night.
  • Get in early, thousands of people are planning the exact same thing.
  • Dress the part to make your experience all the better.
  • Alcohol and bulls do not mix: have fun, but be smart.
  • Ensure you get past Dead Man’s Corner.
  • Once the last bull passes you, bolt for the arena. Not everyone get’s in.
  • Wear a GoPro. I regret not having footage of the craziness.
  • Don’t disrespect the bulls or the locals will be onto you
  • Wear runners, thongs just won’t cut it.
  • Sangria stains, wear it proud.

Read more about other crazy Spanish festivals and more exhilarating races

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Hayden Gregory

Hayden Gregory is a motocross reporter for Dirt Action Magazine from Sydney Australia. He loves the thrills, spills and energy involved with all things moto.


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