The first thing is never consider running with the bulls in Pamplona if you have not seen the encierro before. Even if this is only the Spanish TV1 broadcast (excellent coverage every day of the feria de San Fermín from 7.30 to 8.30 am) which first transmits the run live, then has commentaries, then a re-run with a commentary, and finally a slow motion re-run with music. Even an old film is better than nothing. You must know what to expect. Most of the injured running the bulls in Pamplona each day are foreigners – who have no idea what to expect.
Do not consider running up the Santo Domingo gradient unless you are accompanied by an experienced ‘Santo Domingo runner’. Although there has only ever been one fatality in this first section, there are many injuries, as the bulls come out of the corrals at high speed.
Wear traditional clothing of white and red. Some runners make a point of not wearing anything which the bulls’ horns can get a grip on, such as leather belts or neckerchiefs without a slip knot. Only stupid foreigners, usually Brits, Aussies and Kiwis, believe anything goes, from Viking helmets to kilts.
The biggest problem is the masificación of the run. Twenty years ago you could run comfortably with your eye all the time on the bulls. Now the bigger danger is the other runners, particularly the novices. Eventually the town authorities will have no option but to restrict access to the run to experienced runners, and recently a committee was formed for the first time to consider how the run can be better controlled. (There is a strong lobby in favour of limiting the runners to those prepared to don the traditional garb).
Obviously, do not run with the bulls in Pamplona if you have been drinking. This is illegal, and on the list of DON’TS published by the town hall. Also on the list are the offences of citing the bulls, touching them, wearing unsuitable clothing and carrying rucksacks etc. Heavy fines are imposed, and you will be spotted as there is always film evidence (even Ernest Hemingway was fined once for citing a bull).
If you decide to run in Estafeta street (again low on the list of fatalities but high on injuries) remember there are no doorways to take cover in or barricades to climb over, so you need to be fit enough to run at least 50 metres at full steam. Statistically though, the left side of Estafeta is the safest place on the entire run.
Runners who get to the bullring before the bulls have free entry (if you want a seat in the stands you must arrive early and pay), but this means you will not have had time to run on the horns, unless you start at the top end of Estafeta. It also means you will be going through the tunnel just ahead of the bulls, which is dangerous. Of course, if you wait until the police line at the top of Estafeta breaks at 8 o’clock sharp, you will get into the run with plenty of time to spare – and will not have seen a bull on the way!
I have never read anything on the Sanfermines that mentions the importance of choosing the breed of bull for your day’s run. Obviously this is a little-studied science. However, it has been shown to be much more dangerous to run with the bulls from the Perez Galgo ranch than those from Muira (anorak fact: this is the breed that has been responsible for most deaths in Spanish bullrings over the years). When running the bulls in Pamplona, you want a breed that runs in a close pack, keeps going moderately fast, and does not get distracted and break up. This is why the Muiras are run at weekends, when there are more runners than during the week.
If you can avoid it, do not run with the bulls of Pamplona on the Saturday or the Sunday. Crowds descend on Pamplona from all over Spain, and the town becomes too popular to be comfortable. If you need to plan a visit, avoid the weekends too.
If you just want to watch the running of the bulls, you can rent a balcony overlooking the route or you can get there very early and stake a claim on a piece of barrier. The fun place to be is the chute leading down to the bullring. Overall, however, the TV coverage is so good that this takes a lot of beating. It is quite surreal to be sitting in front of the TV watching the bulls come out of the corral, and hearing the rocket explode simultaneously both live and via the television.
Little-known fact: the bulls to be run the following morning are moved from the larger holding corrals to the corral on Santo Domingo at 11 each night. You can watch this in the Calle de Gas (Gas Street), and it is an eerie experience. No runners, no flash cameras allowed, and all in darkness. Something not to be missed and you’ll be able to tell your friends you saw two runs in one day. They won’t believe you!
La Tomatina – the greatest tomato fight in the world!