Skip to main content

El Encierro: How to Run With the Bulls at San Fermin in Spain

Running with the bulls in Pamplona was the experience of a lifetime. I was extremely impressed by the organization of the event.

San Fermin 2008 poster

San Fermin 2008 poster

Running of the Bulls Overview

The Running of the Bulls (or, "El Encierro," as it is known in Spain) takes place every year from July 7–14 in Pamplona, Spain. The Encierro is a traditional part of the San Fermin Festival and can be an adventure of a lifetime for anyone who partakes.

Each morning around 7 a.m., runners assemble along the predetermined and fenced-off route of Encierro. The Running starts promptly at 8 a.m. and includes the release of six trained fighting bulls and six oxen. After a quick prayer to St. Fermin, the patron saint of both the Navarre region of Spain and the festival itself, runners take their place and wait for the release of the animals. After only a short minute, the corral at the beginning of the route is opened and a rocket is launched to let the runners know that the animals are loose. Once the final bull has left the corral, a second rocket is let off to update the runners.

The route is about 800 meters long and includes an uphill run in the beginning. The Running of the Bulls usually takes about four minutes. The bulls run at an average speed of 15 miles per hour but can sprint much faster at times. On any particular day of the festival, there are 2,000–3,500 runners, with many more festival-goers watching the centuries-old tradition. The running ends when all twelve animals reach the bullfighting ring at the end of the route.

The Running of the Bulls!

The Running of the Bulls!

Scroll to Continue

Read More from WanderWisdom

Running of the Bulls Safety

The Running of the Bulls can be an exciting adventure, but runners should be educated about the risks of such adventure before they ever set foot on the Encierro route. According to the Council of Pamplona, there are between 200 and 300 injuries each year, most of which are not serious. Many of these injuries are caused by falls or are related to overcrowding of runners on the street.

Since official injury record-keeping in 1910, 15 runners have lost their lives in the streets of Pamplona. The most dangerous situations involve pileups of people and bulls that get separated from the rest of the back.

Normally, the bulls instinctively follow each other with a herd-like mentality. The oxen are trained to lead the fighting bulls to the bullring and usually do so without a problem. But a bad situation arises when a bull loses its footing and gets separated from the rest of the herd. On its own, one of the bulls is much more likely to target and go after runners, as well as turn around and run back toward the beginning of the route.

More lives would have certainly been lost over the years had it not been for the excellent medical team assembled in Pamplona each year. Police and emergency services utilize the wooden fences to quickly get to injured runners as soon as they get hurt and immediately begin emergency treatment if necessary. Additionally, these fences have gaps for runners to escape the route if a bull goes rogue or for any other reason. My personal experience at the Running of the Bulls also showed me that runners tend to look out for each other and protect/tend to the injured as well.

Map of the Route and Injuries for the Day I Ran

Map of the Route and Injuries for the Day I Ran

Running of the Bulls Quick Tips

  • DO NOT FALL. If you fall, you risk being trampled by people or bulls and causing a pileup. This is the most important rule of personal safety.
  • If you fall, DO NOT GET UP. This rule only applies to falls near the bulls. It is a myth that bulls are attracted to the color red. They are actually attracted to motion and will chase things that move. If you are unfortunate enough to lose your footing in front of the bulls, cover your head and neck with your hands and face toward the end of the route. The bulls often jump over stationary people on the ground much like horses jump over obstacles in their way.
  • Do your research. Every runner should extensively research the running and the festival. They should watch a few videos of previous runnings and search online for advice and personal stories.
  • Walk the route before you run.
  • Avoid the outside of turns. Bulls often lose their footing and drift to the outside of turns.
  • Wear comfortable gym shoes. You don't want your shoes to fall off or your feet to bother you. You might be running for your life!
  • Don't run drunk. The San Fermin Festival is a crazy week-long party that involves more sangria than most people can imagine. Take the night off from drinking before you run. You will be ready to celebrate after the run anyway.

© 2011 Art Vandelay

Related Articles