The 2015 Encierro, also known as the Running of the Bulls, will once again highlight the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain, as thousands of daredevils will descend upon the Navarre city to partake in one of the most dangerous races on the planet.
The Running of the Bulls shouldn't be seen as a traditional race―it's not about finishing first, or even running the entire course. Instead, it's a test of reflexes and courage, and an incredible experience unlike any other.
The San Fermin Festival starts with an opening ceremony on Monday. Starting Tuesday, there will be a bull run every morning at 8 a.m. local time until the end of the festival on July 14. Runners have to be at the start before 7:30 a.m.
TV personality Rick Steves provides some additional details about the festival:
The schedule for each run is fairly simple: At precisely 8 a.m., a rocket is launched into the air to let the runners know the corral gates have been opened. Six bulls, guided by a group of steers, run roughly half a mile from the gates to the bullring, where bullfights will take place throughout the day.
A second rocket signifies that all bulls have left the gate, at which point the run really heats up. Two more rockets let the runners know that the bulls have entered the ring and another corral gate, respectively, ending the run.
As reported by the New York Post's Larry Getlen, author Peter Milligan wrote a book on the annual tradition. With regard to the rockets, he wrote: “Bulls running together are much less likely to engage in mischief. If there is a long time between rockets, it’s likely the bulls have become separated and danger is afoot.”
Event organisers advise runners to be in excellent physical condition and to take their time to watch several runs and learn about their characteristics before getting involved. Serious injuries occur almost every year, and people have died in the past.
It is strictly forbidden to cross any police barriers to get involved, and participants will simply gather at the start point and run together. Runners are advised to start between the Plaza del Ayuntamiento and Cuesta de Santo Domingo, per the event's official website. The most dangerous part of the run is by far the finish at the stadium, where the streets grow narrower and pileups are frequent.
Milligan is an expert on the event, narrowly surviving a fall near the bullring in 2013. In his book Bulls Before Breakfast―via Getlen―he shared some tips for runners new to the sport:
There is no safe doorway, and often bulls catch standers flush. And, climbing [over walls or railings] only draws the attention of the bulls. Running hard, and straight down the middle, is the safest option. ...
Don’t wait for them to pass you. Run when you see the bulls. Or, run when you’re about to see them. ... If you wait too long to run, [the bulls] will pass you before your brain can tell your feet to get on the move. When you are running down the center of the street, the bulls will quickly overtake you.
More often than not, the main danger comes from the other runners, and not the bulls. There are six in total, and it's pivotal to keep count at all times, but goring and trampling are not that common. Due to the high amount of runners, a fall can quickly lead to a pileup, and this is where most injuries occur.
Milligan has one final piece of advise for those unlucky few who do lose their footing:
If you try to stand up, you will be crushed. Your exposed abdomen is a perfect soft target.
If you fall, curl up into a fetal position while covering your head until someone clearly tells you all the bulls are past. Having a bull step on you is better than having it gore you as you get up.
For more information, visit the event's official website.