The single most characteristic event of the Fiesta of San Fermin. This is the event which has given the Fiesta world-wide fame and which appears on news broadcasts around the world during that special week in July. It is held at eight o’clock each morning from the 7th to the 14th of July inclusive. It consists largely of young men (although it admits all types) who run in front of the bulls to lead them from their pen up and into the bull-ring. It usually lasts from two to three minutes – although if there are complications due to loose bulls it can last much longer.
The length of the run is some 800 metres (about half a mile) and you don’t have to sign up anywhere to take part; you just enter into the run and choose the street where you will run and try to do as best as you can.
On the 15th there is a parody of the run made by some die-hards who refuse to face the fact that the Fiesta is all over and who run in front of the early-morning bus which comes up Santo Domingo street.
The run…… began to some extent through necessity. In those far-off days there were no such things as trucks. But as the people enjoyed the fun of taking the risks it has been kept up so that nowadays it is a spectacle in which thousands of people take part.
This is not the place to go into details but just to give a general outline, things happen more or less like this:
With the first rays of light of the early morning the wooden fencing which lines the route is closed off. Then the night-long revellers are gradully cleared from the streets which line the route by the local police. The street-cleaners then move in to mop up the accumulated rubbish and dirt caused by the night-long revellery.
All spectators must stay behind the double-fencing along the route. Only first-aid teams can be found in the space between the double fencing. One practical reason for this is, that the runners have the space to jump over the fence should they need to. So now that the fencing has been shut in, the only way to enter is at the gateway at the Town Hall or at the gateway of the Plaza del Mercado.
The runners who gather at the bottom of Santo Domingo – the starting line – are crowded together as they sing a homily to the image of San Fermin which is placed in a niche on the wall decorated with the scarves of the peñas. The song goes like this: “A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición” (“We ask San Fermín, as our Patron, to guide us through the Bull Run and give us his blessing.”)
A rocket goes off at the moment the bulls are let out into the street. A second rocket goes off to let everyone know that all the bulls are now in the street
This is the moment of truth in the Bull-Running : the bulls run like the very devil. It´s impossible to race them or even keep up with them for very long (interesting information for anyone with athletic pretensions) : The way to do it is, to start off slowly when the bulls are still a good distance behind, and as they draw nearer start running like the devil, before they get too close, hang in near them for a short time, as near as you are prepared to risk your skin, and then get out of the way as cleanly as possible. Be careful not to cross the paths of other runners. Look for a gap in the fence to slip through or jump over, or a space against the wall of the street.
As well as the danger inherent in running in front of a bull (it’s worth remembering that this is an animal which weighs about 600 kilos – some 120 stone – and which has two big rock-hard horns which can cut through practically anything, not to mention possible bruising from just being stepped on, there is also the problem of overcrowding in the run. So you have to be careful not to get bowled over or knocked down by other runners. The crowding is particularly dense at the weekends where the number of visitors to the Fiesta more than doubles.
Each section of the run has its own particular characteristics so that many runners always choose to run the same section: In Santo Domingo the run is very fast and spectacular and risky at the corner of Mercaderes, while in Estafeta it is somewhat slower and clearer. The run into the bull-ring is exciting and colorful.
Once the bulls have gone past the run has finished for you and you feel a special satisfaction and relief that nothing has happened to you. That is, as long as a bull doesn’t turn back when it gets separated from the others – something which does happen from time to time and which creates a potentially highly dangerous situation. When you hear a third rocket go off it is to let you know that all the bulls have arrived inside the ring and a fourth and final rocket is sent off when all the bulls have been safely led into their pens.
Between that first rocket and final rocket only a couple of minutes will normally have gone by – but what a couple of minutes !
Well, that’s what the running of the bulls is all about. So if you have been up all night, think carefully about what is the best thing for you to do at that decisive moment – to drag your tired body off to bed, or to take the risk of running, or to find a safe place to watch the run from behind the fences.