Trampled in Pamplona: how to survive the running of the bulls

Comedian and author Andy Smart has run with the bulls 61 times - here is his advice on how to come out unscathed

Pamplona bull run
(Image credit: Getty Images)

From 6 to 14 July, the Basque town of Pamplona hosts the Festival of San Fermin, whose highlight is the world famous Encierro or running of the bulls, which takes place every morning at 8am for the duration of the festival.

The run is just 900m long and the bulls usually run it in 2 minutes 20 seconds, but for those who run along side them, the memories can last a lifetime. As someone who has run it - and survived - 61 times, here are my top survival tips.

Get in the run early

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If you want to run, you have to climb into the space between the safety fences, in front of the town hall, before 7.30am. It is not a pleasant place to wait. You can watch people sobering up rapidly as their body produces adrenaline. Try not to make eye contact with anyone, because you will see the fear behind their eyes - this will increase your apprehension.

Do not look up at the town hall clock, it will not move. Time becomes very slow. If you can’t take it, walk down the hill to the statue of San Fermin and listen to the prayers, offered up by runners, asking for him to watch over them. At 7.55, the police cordon will move out of the way, and you can choose your starting spot.

Choose your starting point carefully

Walk the run the night before. You will not be able to run the whole way with the bulls as there are too many people in the run (3,500 each year). The best you will probably achieve is about 50 metres. So you have to work out where they will pass you. One of the safest places is on the inside of the Town Hall square bend - the bulls are travelling at their fastest here and tend to go wide.

Do not get caught at the end of Mercaderes as there is a ninety degree turn left and all sorts of mayhem happens here (it was even worse before they put anti slip paint on the cobblestones.) If, when the rocket goes off to let you know they have released the bulls, you start from this junction and jog, the bulls will pass you at the other end of Estafeta just before Telefonica.

Try not to get caught in the dark and narrow tunnel under the stadium, and whatever you do, don’t run into the ring before the bulls! This is a no-no. You will have abuse hurled at you as the crowd tells you, you haven’t actually run with the bulls.

If you fall

As you run, everyone else is looking after themselves. As fear takes over, it’s like being in a big washing machine with lots of strangers. Stay about a metre out from the left wall and keep your eyes all around you - you might have someone’s hand on your back, you might have to hurdle over someone whose fallen, you will definitely have to swerve round people.

If you should fall, and the bulls are close, DO NOT try to get up. Stay down tuck yourself into a ball and cover your head. Bulls are colour blind (that red rag schtick is a lie,) and they have very poor eyesight. They will see you as a rock and jump over you. Trust me. It takes nerve. But if you do try to stand you could bring other runners down and then there would be a big pile of bodies for the bull to run into.

Count the bulls!

There are six bulls in the run every morning. To keep them moving, there are six steers alongside them. It is imperative that as they go past, you count them. Just the bulls. Because the most dangerous part of any bull run, is if one bull becomes isolated - that is when they stop running and start trying to gore people.

It’s not over once you reach the bull ring

Once the bulls have passed you, you can run on into the ring. Run organisers will send three steers through the course three minutes after the bulls have left, to pick up any strays left along the route, so you can usually make it into the ring in front of them. The sight is exhilarating! It is the third biggest bull ring in the world and holds 25,000 people.

As soon as you can, jump over the safety fence. Do not stand in the centre of the ring taking selfies! The second part of the encierro is about to start. Once all the bulls and steers have been taken out, and the gates are shut, an 18-month-old fighting bull is let into the ring. They have leather padding on the horns but are much faster and less predictable than the full-size bulls.


Andy Smart is a comedian and author. His travel memoir A Hitch in Time (£9.99) is published 25 July by AA Publishing.

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