Running Tips for Beginners at San Fermin

by Jeannie on June 13, 2012

So you decided to do it.  Put on a head to toe white outfit.  Tie a red bandana around your throat and knot a red sash at your waist.  You are on the street by 7:00 am, jumping up and down to clear sleep from your eyes, stretching out your legs to prepare yourself.  You’re about to become a corredor, a runner of the encierro.

However, are you truly ready?  Do you have all the information?

For the beginner, there are some important points you should know.

  • The full length of the bull run is 825 m.  You will not run this entire length.  Nobody does due to the chaos and unpredictable behavior of the crowd and the bulls.
  • The run itself lasts a mere four minutes.  A tight, clean run averages about two minutes, then add thirty to forty seconds to that.
  • To some degree, you can control the amount of danger.  You could aim for the middle of the street to get close to a particular bull.  This is called en los cuernos, in the horns.  Or you can be cautious, by running along the sides, insulated by other runners.
  • If you’ve seen news agency photos, runners hold rolled up newspapers.  These are not for hitting the bulls on the flank or backside, by the way.  That’s a sure way to irritate them.  When you’re in the heat of the run and you want to distract or redirect a bull, wave the newspaper in front of its snout.  Doing so steers them away from endangering more people.
  • Pamplona keeps three or four big steers (cabestros) to assist with straggling bulls.  Within moments of the corral gates opening, the cabestros are released, escorted by herders wielding sticks.  Should a bull become separated from his brothers, the herders guide him back to the bullring.
  • Be aware: because of hell raising parties the night before, city workers often hose down the streets. This makes the cobblestones slippery.
Here’s a map of the bull run:

Number 1 is where the corral is and calle Santo Domingo.  This is where the bulls are first released and as some experts say, is when the bulls are the fastest and most aggressive.  After that they curve onto Plaza Consistorial in front of the town hall.  Distance here is about 274 meters.  Only the most veteran runners begin at Santo Domingo, I’d recommend not running here.

Experts also say this is when the bulls are confused.  After all, before then they were living on open land grazing on grass with their brothers and not kept in confined spaces, let alone running down a cobble stone street with hundreds of people running alongside them.  Because of their confused state, they tend to stay in a close pack.

As the bulls run through Plaza Consistorial it becomes calle de los Mercaderes and a sharp right turn onto calle Estafeta.  At this turn, things can get messy.  Because of the slippery cobblestones and the speed and propulsion of the bulls, some can fall or crash into the wooden barricade.  Distance here is relatively short, only 100 meters.  Major tip here: avoid the barricade on the left-hand side at the bottom of Estafeta.  This is where a bull can get separated and lose contact with the herd and connect with human bodies.

After the turn on calle de los Mercadares, Estafeta becomes an extensive uphill run, about 301 meters.

At the top of Estafeta is where many beginners should start their run.  Estafeta to the bullring is only 91 meters, giving new runners a fighting chance on making it to plaza de toros.  At this stage, the bulls have slammed the cobblestones for 0.8 kilometers, so their speed has slowed considerably.

When at the top of Estafeta there’s a left hand curve at Telefonica.  Be careful here, pileups of runners can happen.  The bulls go around another left hand curve at Telefonica, through the chute, and into the bullring (Number 8 on the map).

Stay on the left hand side when you enter the bullring, due to radial force, the bulls usually barrel to the right.

I recently finished reading a bare bones book on the subject, Running with the Bulls: Fiestas, Corridas, Toreros, and an American’s Adventure in Pamplona by Gary Gray.  Certainly not a literary masterpiece, the book is written by a normal man who fell in love with San Fermin and continued to return year after year.  At the time of publication, Gray had completed 50 runs, thus I’m going to turn the rest of the tips over to him – word for word.

1. Walk the encierro route prior to the run, and plan where you want to meet the bulls.

2.  Know the elapsed time of the run by either counting mentally or referring to a watch, and picture where the bulls are in relation to you.

3.  Plan an escape route should you become a bulls’ bulls-eye.

4.  Run along the side of the route if you are a slow runner.

5.  Get out of the way when it’s time for the bulls to pass — they are way faster than you.

6.  Take the inside path on all curves and turns.  A bull’s massive weight and momentum carry him to the outside of turns, an important consideration at the right hand turn onto Estafeta and the left hand curves into the chute.

7.  If you fall near the bulls, cover your head and roll into a ball off to the side of the street.  Try to get into a crevice or near the barricade until some other runner indicates to you that it is safe to get up.  Do not get up until someone tells you the bulls are clear!

8.  Runners may not carry backpacks or cameras during the encierro.

9.  Wear running shoes with good treads. Tie your shoes tightly so they won’t fall off or become unlaced during the run.

10.  Long pants, not shorts, are advisable for the run. A pair of long pants protects your knees and legs from cuts and other minor injuries.

11.  Finally, run in a relatively sober state.  You will need to be in split-second control of your actions.  You don’t want to do anything that may increase the danger to yourself or to another corredor.

Hopefully you found these tips useful, especially Gary’s.

Now go out there and have a successful run!

Viva San Fermin!

Photo: World Travel List

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jarmo June 13, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Good tips Jeannie, I’m sure these will come in handy ;) You’ve really put a lot of effort into this!
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Nomadic Chick June 14, 2012 at 1:09 am

Thanks Jarmo! Hope these come in handy for you. :)
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The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) June 14, 2012 at 8:38 am

Great tips! Glad to see you suggest wearing running shoes with good treads. Wouldn’t want any ladies in heels out there! This sounds so fun!
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Jeannie June 15, 2012 at 1:24 am

I was so angry about the no-heels rule. I mean, really…
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Ian [EagerExistence] June 14, 2012 at 9:29 am

I can vouch for the fact the streets are cleaned nightly. With a crowd that huge, they do a remarkable job of getting the place clean each day.

If you’re spectating, get there before 7am for a good view. The Arena at the end of the run fills up with Spaniards, get in early for a good spot (not the nose-bleed section).

Loads more tips, but I don’t want to take anything away from your post ;)
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Jeannie June 15, 2012 at 1:26 am

There is your comment! Extra tips would not ‘take’ anything away. Only add. Feel free to add more tips. The better informed people are, the smoother their run will go. :)

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Laura @Travelocafe June 14, 2012 at 10:39 am

As I leave in Spain, I get quite often the invitation to run with the bulls…. but of course I never accept such invitations. Should I dare more in life? Maybe…

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Jeannie June 15, 2012 at 1:27 am

You clearly don’t want to do this or you would have by now. Live as you wish! :)

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Brock - Backpack With Brock June 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Great tips!
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Jeannie June 15, 2012 at 1:28 am

Cheers, mistah!

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Marie @ A Montrealer Abroad June 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I lack coordination and I’m terrified of just about everything so running with the bulls isn’t in my short-term plans – but what a great article! I’ll keep it in mind for my more adventurous friends.

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Jeannie June 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

Thanks lady! I think many beginners don’t know how to go about things, so I hope this helps!
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The Rowdy Chowgirl June 20, 2012 at 11:02 pm

All great tips, and we read Gary Gray’s book before we went to Pamplona a few years ago, too. As a girl who has run with the bulls, I’m thrilled to have found your blog and will be following your progress toward San Fermin!

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Jeannie June 22, 2012 at 3:07 am

@Rowdy Chowgirl – Yeah! His book is really useful. :)

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Raul (ilivetotravel in Twitter) June 24, 2012 at 4:12 pm

No, not planning on doing the run but I enjoyed reading the tips and best practices – very helpful to anyone planning on going!
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Jeannie June 26, 2012 at 1:06 pm

We hope so!
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Charlie June 27, 2012 at 12:44 am

I’m going over with my boyfriend this year and he’s so excited to run but I haven’t decided whether I should or not! I want to for bucket list/adrenaline sake but it sounds so scary! This post helps… But still, eek! Might see you there :)

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Nomadic Samuel August 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm

This is quite fascinating. I never realized the course was as long as 825 m.
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PamplonaMan October 2, 2012 at 7:39 am

Thanks for all the great tips!

Viva San Fermin!
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shannon province July 11, 2014 at 12:43 pm

My partner and i don’t have coordination and also I’m afraid involving just about everything so managing while using the bulls isn’t within my short-term programs – nevertheless such a wonderful post! I’ll keep that planned pertaining to our a lot more bold close friends.

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