Just being bullheaded?
February 17, 2010 7:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering running with the bulls in Pamplona this July, just how stupid an idea is this?

It looks like I'll be in Spain for a conference that will end just after the start of the Festival of San Fermin. I can't imagine I'd soon have this chance again and I think it'd be a once in a lifetime experience. I just don't want it to be the last experience of my lifetime.

Please assume I understand the issues regarding cruelty to the bulls and the moral questions those present. I'm asking just how dangerous this really is, as Wikipedia tells me that only 15 people have died in the last century and most injuries are the result of falls and the like. Obviously, advice from those who have run or observed the run would be very valuable.

I've read this, but I'm hoping more MeFi bullrunners will come out of the woodwork this time around.
posted by dnesan to Travel & Transportation around Pamplona, Spain (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a firsthand story, but one of my friends has done this and come out alive. In fact he wants a second go in the near future. When we talked about it, he mentioned the general chaos and panic you would expect at such an event, getting lost and losing people in the madness, and similar loveliness. I wish I had more details to share with you - if by the end of this thread you still feel like you want to know more, feel free to message me and I'll bug my friend for the nitty gritty.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 7:23 PM on February 17, 2010

I've never done this personally either, but from what I understand it is safe in the 'you're not going to get gored by a bull' way except for about twenty people lined up directly in front of the bulls. There are several exits to get out along the way if you get tired. Really it's more about knowing how to keep your head up in a giant running crowed than needing to be afraid of bulls.
posted by JackarypQQ at 7:28 PM on February 17, 2010

Only if you think doing something cliched is stupid. Your risk of serious injury is probably not great.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:36 PM on February 17, 2010

The actual running of the bulls part is relatively safe. One of my friends went this past year and was fine, except for then that he got really drunk, passed out on a hillside, and woke up with no camera or wallet. There is a lot more risk from just the number of people and amount of alcohol than of the bulls.
posted by JauntyFedora at 7:55 PM on February 17, 2010

My maternal uncle managed to remain ungored after a run as a fit ~45 year old. If you've decided for it in good conscience, then mount a small camera on the back of your hat and go for it.
posted by notquitemaryann at 8:01 PM on February 17, 2010

I ran with the bulls last summer at a small festival in a city called Sahagun. I was hiking through and just happened to run across the opportunity-- it was about 99% locals, and a pretty small running crowd. It was no big deal and I wasn't scared at all. I'd agree with previous posters that the real danger comes from being drunk or hungover or in a huge crowd.

Be warned that Pamplona during San Fermin is totally crazy and may not jive with your idea of a good travel experience. Pamplona, within the city walls, is a very small city.

You're right about the 15 deaths, but between 2-300 people are injured every year, usually from falling down (wikipedia). Personally, I wouldn't want to be injured in any way, and that seems like a really big risk.

Pamplona runs .5 mile at about 15 mph. Can you comfortably run half a mile in two minutes? How about in a huge crowd, most likely without sleep, in twisting city streets?
posted by acidic at 8:12 PM on February 17, 2010

I went determined to run but ended up not doing it.

Here's the thing -- you see the running of the bulls on TV but not so much of the HUGE FUCKING PARTY/ORGY that's going on the rest of the time for two straight weeks. And it's awesome but first off, do you have a room reserved in Pamplona? Because you'll want to try and book one now and chances are you won't get it. There are some smaller towns outside that you can try as well but they also fill up quickly.

I went with a friend and we just decided to sleep in a park. In itself not such a bad thing since everyone else is doing it, but you will not get any sleep. People will literally thrust bottles and winesacks into your face and won't stop until you drink some. You can go to a store and ask for a bottle of water and they will laugh at you and refuse until you decide to get another bottle of wine. I'm not kidding about any of this.

Here's another thing I didn't know until I got there -- the running is at seven AM. Odds are you will be hung over or still drunk. Police will start putting up the wooden fence-posts that corral the bulls to the stadium and in my case, that's when I realized I would probably die.

YMMV of course, but if you really want to run it safely try to avoid getting drunk. And this is actually a Herculean task.

Also, women aren't allowed to run. They can sort of sneak over the fence at the last second but the cops will tell them to move back into the crowd. (This was in 2000 or so so maybe things have changed.)
posted by bardic at 8:24 PM on February 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

You see the running of the bulls on TV but not so much of the HUGE FUCKING PARTY/ORGY that's going on the rest of the time for two straight weeks.

Exactly what I came to say. And that is why you must go and do this once in your life.
posted by rokusan at 8:32 PM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went and thought about running, but chose not to. My take on it is this:

The running of the bulls, or encierro as it's called in Spanish, is fantastically dangerous. You can very easily get trampled to death by feckless, terrifying animals with no remorse and no compunction about killing you on sight. These creatures do not care about human life, and would just as soon stomp on your head as throw you a glance. If you give them even a whisper of a chance, they will put their ridiculous feet on every square inch of your body, stomping your poor frame to the pavement and breaking your every bone, uninterrupted in their mad dash for glory. Opportunities to die so senselessly, at the feet of beings so entirely unburdened by any moral scruples about killing you, may be rare, but this is probably the best of all of them.

And the bulls can be a bit frightening, too.

It's worth noting that very, very few locals actually do the encierro anymore. From what I could tell, it seemed to be mostly besotted Australians. (I was unprepared for this fact, but besotted Australians can be even worse than USian frat boys. Who knew?)
posted by koeselitz at 10:06 PM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

dnesan: “as Wikipedia tells me that only 15 people have died in the last century and most injuries are the result of falls and the like...”

Translation: it won't be the bull that kills you. It'll be the drunken fool who sticks out his ankle or accidentally grabs at your knee. Don't put your life in the hands of people who have ingested so much Kalimotxo [cheap wine + coca cola] that they can't see their hand in front of their own face.
posted by koeselitz at 10:13 PM on February 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

bardic: “I went with a friend and we just decided to sleep in a park. In itself not such a bad thing since everyone else is doing it, but you will not get any sleep.”

That works; the park is a fine place to sleep. There are thieves everywhere, however; be careful. I had an altercation last time that involved my then-girlfriend's purse getting stolen by two thieves; the story is too long to tell here, but involves a Brazilian midget who tried to bite off my ear.

Seriously, go to the San Fermines. It should be experienced. Just be prepared for utter madness.
posted by koeselitz at 10:17 PM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did exactly the same thing - road trip from Barcelona to Pamplona after a conference that fell right before the first day of the Festival of San Fermin. The run is scary as hell but the odds are on your side. A few tips:

1) The cobblestones are often wet and slippery. Wear shoes with good traction. These might not be your usual rubber-soled tennis shoes.

2) Some of your fellow runners will be macho guys who carry rolled-up newspapers. Their goal is to get as close as possible to a bull and tap him on the nose with the paper. It's supposed to bring them good luck. Don't do that. Your good luck is staying away from the bulls.

3) You can't leave the course during the run. The spectators on the fence will throw you back in. If the bulls catch up to you, hug the wall and let them run by. They want to stay with the herd so they'll ignore you. Most people get passed by the bulls with no trouble. If you fall near the bulls, get as close to the wall as you can and ball up to protect your head and neck. Your biggest risk of injury is getting stepped on by a person or a bull.

4) Don't jump up in front of a bull. They instinctively dip their horns at things which leap in front of them. If you go down, stay down.

5) If you make it to the end of the course ahead of the bulls, you'll be herded into the stadium. The tunnel leading into the stadium is a natural bottleneck and is one of the most dangerous spots on the run. Try to stay to the side and get through as fast as you can.

6) Once on the stadium floor, you'll serve as entertainment for the audience as the bulls are herded into your pens. You can't climb out into the seats - the guards will throw you back in. Try to stay on the far side away from the bull pens. This part is chaotic.

7) Don't bring any kind of bag into the holding area before the run. You'll be thrown out by security.

8) If you want to see the run through to the end, line up as close to the front as you can. On the first day of the festival the spectators packed the first kilometer of the course. I ended up running less than a kilometer and beat the bulls to the stadium.

9) The most dangerous situation is a bull who gets separated from the pack or (worse still) turned around. If you see that happen, do your best to stay away until the bull finds his way back to the pack.

Oh, and be prepared for many of your fellow runners to be completely trashed and unslept from the night before. I advise waiting until after you run to really party down. Being sober is a survival advantage in this case, and you'll have more fun going drinking with your lingering adrenaline rush.
posted by rhiannon at 7:02 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

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