Some Important Advice about The Bullruns In Pamplona
THE SEVEN MAIN BULL RUNS
By The Pamplona Posse
Nobody runs the whole course, if you want to try that I suggest you turn up earlier in the year when one of the Penas organises a foot race along the bull run course. The current record is for men 2 minutes and 3 second and for women 2 minutes and 31 seconds. When the bulls do their stuff in July, most mornings they beat the 2 minute barrier. When people talk about running with the bulls, that is what it means… you pick your stretch and when the bulls come you run with them.
OK, so it is not that simple but just to make one small point. Starting half way up the course, as soon as the first rocket goes off, you take off and run as fast as possible into the bullring, jump over the wall and you are finished at least a minute before the bulls arrive…. This is not running with the bulls. You can kid on to your friends back home, how brave you were but you will know the truth. If you do intend to do this… fair enough. You can blag your way through conversations in the pub with phrases like " I always run in the Estafeta" but you don’t have to bother reading any more of this guide to bull running. Just flick through the rest of this site to see if there are any pictures of naked women to add to your fantasy world. You will not be by yourself; hundreds of ‘runners’ do it that way every morning. So lets assume that you are not a fantasy runner…..
Starting at the beginning of the course we have SANTO DOMINGO, traditionally this used to be where the Guild of Butchers ran. It is also at this point that runners gather just before the run to offer a little ‘prayer’ or invocation to Saint Fermín. They sing this homily three times before a niche in the wall, which has a figure of the Saint and is decorated with the scarves of the peñas, which is located on the Cuesta de Santo Domingo. The song goes like this: "We ask San Fermín, as our Patron, to guide us through the Bull Run and give us his blessing." If you want to learn it the Spanish goes like this… "A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición"
At eight o'clock exactly the first rocket is launched announcing the opening of the gates of the small corrals' of Santo Domingo, while the firing of the second indicates that all the bulls have left. There are two main ways to run this part of the course you can start half way down the hill and when the rocket goes off you start running up the hill towards the Town Hall square. The bulls are as fast as fuck at this point but you might just make it into the square. It is very difficult if not impossible to run with the bulls in this part of the course because of their speed and the fact that the street is very narrow and uphill. You tend to take off and then very quickly have to hit the wall as the bulls thunder past; you have no thinking time what so ever so you must know exactly what you are doing in this run.
The second way of running SANTO DOMINGO is slightly more interesting… it is exactly the same except that when you start off you run downhill towards the bulls! This does mean that you have to spin on your toes and head back up the hill as the bulls thunder towards you but it sure is one hell of a hangover cure. Generally speaking the bulls will pass you about where you started from, assuming that you have hit the wall to let them squeeze by.
If you have read the book "The Drifters" by James Michener you will recall one of the main characters Harvey Holt who had run with the bulls for years. In the book this was the run that Harvey Holt did, running down Santo Domingo towards the bulls. Harvey Holt was actually based on two real characters, David Black and Matt Carney. Matt Carney was the most famous bullrunner of all the foreigners who came to the Sanfermines. Unfortunately Matt Carney, David Black and other characters like Jim Corbett are no longer with us, but their memory certainly lives on in Pamplona at Fiesta time. I remember when I first started coming to Pamplona I had the pleasure of knowing Matt, and he taught me one of my first words in Spanish "suerte" which means ‘good luck’. He used to say this as he tapped you on the chest with his rolled up newspaper as he passed you in the street just before the run.
If you are thinking of running in Santo Domingo then only do so if you have got a friend who has run this bit before and can walk and talk you through it. I’ve run with the bulls over 50 times but I have only ever run Santo Domingo three times, and in case you are curious I ran down towards the bulls. That was only because I am such a lazy bastard and will always prefer going downhill at the start.
How dangerous is Santo Domingo? Well strictly speaking only two of the 13 deaths (that have been recorded since records began) occurred in Santo Domingo. One on the 9th July 1961 and the other on the 12th July 1969. However there has been quite a few people gored over the years in Santo Domingo, often a bull can dip a horn and run it along the wall and for the guys against the way, there is no escape and no time to get out of the way. Still there is one advantage it is over fast! If you ever what that bit of the run on video it seems as if the tape is being fast-forwarded.
You have to be careful if you have started halfway up Santo Domingo and you actually make it up as far as the Town Hall square. It is a bit like the situation when they enter the ring the bulls are going from a confined street into a more open space. My advice is that if you have made it into the square peel off and hit the sides. Your main danger hear is other runners who are starting their run from the sides of the square who will therefore possibly running across your path.
This may have been one of the reasons behind Matthew Tassio falling in 1995. Unfortunately Matthew Tassio died on the 13th July 1995 in the Town Hall square; he was the 13th person to be killed in the Pamplona Bull run this century. OK he had a go at running, fair play to the man but it must be said that he made a number of bad errors. Now some people might think what the hell right have I got to judge his actions… ‘He is dead let him rest in peace’. However if only one person who reads this takes a few lessons on board then it will be worthwhile and I am sure that Matthew would have no problem with that.
Matthew arrived in Pamplona only a few hours before the run and joined in the party. He then decided to run and without any prior knowledge ‘just had a go’ he chose a bad place to run starting at the lip of the Town Hall square as the bulls emerge from Santo Domingo. He was unaware of the cross flow of bodies at that point and he tripped and fell, this would have not been a problem if he had stayed down. If you ever fall at all close to where the bull are then lie still they will nine times out of ten run over you will very little problems. Matthew Taisso tried to get up straight into the path of one of the bulls and unfortunately this cost him his life. It is only if you fall well away from the bulls that you must get up quickly and avoid a pile up. OK it does seem as if Santo Domingo is not the place to start running with bulls then again you can say that about most part of the course, but the basic problem in Santo Domingo is that he bulls are fast as fuck. Not to mention there is no where to hide.
The next part of the run is the AYUNTAMIENTO, Santo Domingo was 280 metres long, the stretch from the top of Santo Domingo through the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento) square and along Mercaderes (a short street that leads up to the corner of Estafeta) is approximately 100 metres long. The bulls tend to slow down ‘ a bit’ when they go through this part of the course and because the route bends to the left at this point, the bulls will tend to swing wide to the right hand side. This means that you should try and take the other side (i.e. the left).
There is also a fair bit of fencing on this part of the course therefore escape is possible. If you are going to run this part of the course make sure that you peel away before you get to where Mercaderes turns into Estafeta, unless you are deliberately going to run that corner. This is the next recognised type of run where you pick up the bulls just out of the Town Hall square and run them down and round the corner into the Estafeta. The corner can be quite dangerous for a few reasons, it is such a sharp bend to the right that quite often the bulls can fall or get bundled up on the outside of the corner. NEVER TAKE THAT CORNER ON THE LEFT, that is where the bulls always end up.
Some people tuck in round the corner on the right waiting to start their run at the bottom of Estafeta so you must be aware of these other runners. It can often also be the case that bulls can fall, turn, and get split up on this corner, this can make it quite dangerous and you will have a long way to go up the Estafeta before there are any places to escape. With a bull right up your arse the last thing that you want is to be looking up at the 450 metres of the Estafeta with your first chance of escape about 200 metres further on.
We are now into the Estafeta it is the longest stretch of the run and in a way it is quite a good places to run with the bulls. If the bulls have not been split up and none of them have stopped and turned then they will steam on up the Estafeta at a pace that you can cope with.
This is where I started running with the bulls. Myself and friends would wait in the Town Hall square until the clock hit eight o’clock and then start walking down toward Mercaderes as the first rocket went off (signalling that the bull pen had been opened). We would start to lightly jog, as the second rocket went off we would increase the pace slightly as we turned into Estafeta. We would speed up a bit but only really turn on the gas when the bulls were just behind us.
How can you tell if they are just behind you? It is the noise.. it is like thunder in your ears accompanied by yells and shouts. The thunder is the noise of the other runners on the street. It is as this point that you must chose your path, if you are not that experience keep to one side but avoid the people. Some veteran runners prefer the centre of the road because there will be less people there, but you have to know what you are doing and be able to peel away before the bulls run over you.
I have some of my happiest memories of when I was 18 and 19 years old running alongside the bulls with out a care or fear in the world in this part of the run (the innocence of youth). Running with the bulls means just that, you have to pick your stretch of the course and get your timing right. So that you arrive there at the right spot ready to take off, it is quite useful if you have jogged for a bit up the course. This means that you are becoming accustomed to running in a crowded narrow street, surrounded by hundreds of other runners, some quietly confident others shitting themselves.
People often say it is the people that are more dangerous and to an extent they have a point. You can be going along quite nicely your timing is great and then somebody does something silly or unexpected and you are right in the shit. An example would be the dickheads who try to run and take pictures. You get some guy who pops out virtually into your path with a camera up to his eyes trying to get a great action shot photos for the folks back home. The standards operating procedure in these circumstances is a forearm smash to push him out of the way as you steam past him (you know it makes sense).
The thing is, fear effects different people in different ways. I was having a good run one morning and as we got to the top of the Estafeta there was a bit of a crush of people, so I wisely hit the wall as the bulls were about to steam past as they were veering towards that side. No worries I thought until a small Frenchman slammed into the wall behind me and grabbing my shirt at my back he swung me in front of him as a shield. Fuck I thought ! But luckily for me the bulls thundered past me… "tranquillo.. tranquillo" I said. (Which translate as take it easy mate, it is OK ) As I have said before, I long for those days in the past when with the innocence of youth I believed myself to be indestructible.
Running with the bulls has become more dangerous over the last twenty five year or so, mainly because it is getting so crowded in the street. There is a sort of natural pattern to the running, which should help even this out. As it gets more dangerous more people get injured or killed and so this should put people off running. In a cynical way I remember that one of the best days for running was back in 1980 when two guys got killed on the 13th July the next day the street were nice and uncrowded making for good running.
The top of Estafeta is the next part of the course that you can run. It could be that it has got to be quite a crowded part of the course because although it is quite a dangerous place to run you do have a very good chance of getting yourself in the photographs. There are at least two local photo shop which produce for sale photos of the run at about 12 o’clock midday. It might be the height of vanity, but I’ve been there jostling with the other runners to see if I am in one of the shots that are in the window. The real clever guys have a friend with them who can shout out "look there you are just in front of that bull" as they point to one of the pictures in the window, they then get some admiring glances from the crowd around the picture shop. To be honest it is a game that you can play whether you ran that morning or not. You and a friend take it in turns to point roughly at some of the photos saying.. "God you were close to the horns"…. "that bull nearly got you"… etc. You then start making outrageous claims to be people in the photographs that look nothing at all like you, until people realise that you both are just harmless drunks. There are quite a few runners who have shifted where they run just to stand a greater chance of getting in some good photos, I have done so myself. In fact last year
It would be true to say that the Estafeta is probably the most well known bits of the bull run, partly it could be because of how Michener wrote about it in the ‘Drifters’.
"..I led the way to the barricades where the bulls leave the city hall plaza to enter Estafeta, and as we climbed into position… we could appreciate the dramatic significance of this spot, because if you ran at Town Hall, you had a limited distance to worry about, with plenty of fences under which you could duck in an emergency. But if you elected to run in Estafeta, you faced a street of considerable length, extremely narrow, uphill all the way and with never a fence to aid you. When the bulls overtook you, as they must, all you could do was either press yourself against the wall or throw yourself into the gutter and hope……
‘You ever run in Estafeta?’ Joe asked.
‘Once, and like everyone else who has done so, when I’m in a bar in Amsterdam or Montevideo and someone mentions Pamplona, I let them throw their weight around, then casually say, "I always run in Estafeta," and the conversation halts.."
So is the Estafeta all that dangerous ? Well it is not for the faint-hearted because once you are in there you have not got many options, it is long, it is narrow and it is slightly up hill. If you are considering doing the Estafeta, try it out one night about 11 o’clock and see how quickly you can run up it with crowds of people. It is true that there has only been one death in the Estafeta ( 13th July 1924 ) and that was 75 years ago, but there have been some real bad gorings. The trouble is, if a bulls is separated or it turns there are no easy escape routes. Another thing you should do if you are running in Estafeta is know where the escape routes are, the few fences and any shop railings. This is where walking the course before-hand is essential.
Most of the veteran runners will still do this to check out what may have changed slightly from last year. I remember one year in the Estafeta when the bulls had just passed me and suddenly one bulls turned, luckily I was quite close to some shop railing which I climbed up and hung on to with my hands until the danger had passed. It would always be my advice that if a bull turns, get out of the street, as long as you can do so safely. Don’t try to run across the bull or move unnecessarily if the bull turns and you don’t have the time to move. Quick movement will attract the bulls attention, when until then he might be totally unaware of your presence.
One of the worst gorings in recent years was at the top of the Estafeta just outside Casa Flores, when Stephen Townsend an American was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was running that morning and the bulls had just passed me and I felt that something was wrong and I hit the side just after they passed by. It was just then that a big black bull had pulled up facing away from me, I did not need any second invitation. I ran back to the fence at the top side street, and as my foot hit the first rung I heard the groan from the crowd which meant somebody was getting hurt. As I climbed over the barrier I heard more and more screams from the crowd just as I was going through the second barrier (to give space to other escapees and the medics) Stephen Townsend was carried through onto a stretcher, he was covered in blood, as was the street.
Later when I watched it on TV I could see the awful saga unfold. The bull had turned and Townsend moved, the bull then repeatedly went for him chopping into his groin and thighs with his horns. Townsend’s mistake was he kept trying to get up and crawl away. You can still see the series of photos in one of the photo shops, it was the 11th July 1984. I can still vividly remember all the blood in the street as we waited for the Casa Flores to open so we could drink to the fact that we had made it through another run. I don’t know what made me hesitate in the run and hit the side early but it stopped me from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It also made me think that I had had one too many close shaves over the ten years that I had been running and so I gave it a rest for a few years.
So if we have a quick recap of the different runs:
1) You can run up Santo Domingo
2) You can run downhill in Santo Domingo towards the Bulls
3) You can run the Town hall Square
4) You can run the Corner of Estafeta
5) You can run the Estafeta.
There are two more runs 6) Telefonos and 7) The Tunnel, because these runs are quite close together, even if you start of thinking I will run Telefonos, you have a good chance that some of the bulls will be with you in the Tunnel. If you are running Telefonos, you can start off in the Town Hall Square and slowly walk up the course after the police let people go. However I make it a point not to go very far at all up Estafeta until I hear the first rocket.
That is your signal to start jogging up the course. The only purpose here is to warm up and get yourself used to what the crowds are like in the street that morning. You are still well ahead of the bulls at this point. When you reach the top part of the Estafeta it widens out, it is at this point I go to my take off point. You must select your own place to run, the last thing I want to do is to encourage a herd of readers of this site to flock to one part of the course. If you have got your timing right you should arrive at your take off point about 10 seconds or so before the bulls, this allows you to have a quick jump or two up in the air to see if they are getting close.
To be honest it is the noise of the crowd that will give you all the information, and you will know that the bulls are just about on you as you hear the thunder of peoples feet as they are steaming ahead of the bulls. This is when I take off on my run which takes me in front of the bulls with the rest of the runners, the bulls will then either pass by or I will hit the side, depending on how strung out they are. It is important at this point to be aware if there are more to come. The bulls are more likely to be split up if there has been a gap between the two rockets, and listen to the crowd, if they are shouting ‘Otra Otra’ it means that there is another one to come. Other useful phrases to watch out for are ‘loco toro’.
It is a matter of some debate as to where in the street you should run, right-hand side, left-hand side or in the middle. Some people swear that there are less people in the middle so you can have a clear run, however it is generally true that the middle is where the bulls steam through. As to which side you prefer that is a personal choice apart from some obvious points where the course bends, as a general rule always take the inside track at these points as the bulls will swing out on a bend. The unpredictability of the run is one reasons why it is attractively dangerous, so the bulls can and do run at the sides as well as in the middle.
If you suddenly see a bull coming along the side and you are trapped against a wall or fence, the tricky decision you have to take is have you the time to evade the bull ( and you have to be fucking quick to do that from a standing start in a crowded street ) or do you try the minimalist movement approach. This involves making yourself as thin as possible against the wall, sucking in your gut, (don’t worry your bollocks will retract of their own volition) and not moving. With a bit of luck the bull will steam on by, as most of the movement will be in the street in front of him. Well that’s the theory, but I give no refunds if you are shit out of luck and it does not play out as I have stated. The only caveat to this is if you see the bull is chopping it’s horns from side to side (like a boxer) you might want to be even more careful about that decision.
The last of the seven places to run is the Tunnel (Callejon) and this is one place that you must check out first before you run there. I made the mistake of getting caught in the Tunnel the very first time I ran, on 8th July 1976. I will never forget that morning, a pile up of bodies occurred at the point where the tunnel opens into the bullring and a 17 year old guy died at the bottom of the pile up. They thought at first it was asphyxiation but later it was discover he had been fatally gored.
The bulls were stuck in the tunnel running into the pile of bodies that was about five feet tall, as people fled from the entrance to the Tunnel. It was my very first run and the only advice I had been given was don’t miss all the fun in the bullring after the run. "They might try and stop you getting in to the ring." So as these sane people ran away from the Tunnel and danger, I, like a right ‘mug-punter’ ran past then pushing my way into the Tunnel. Oh Fuck! (Of all the Oh Fuck! moments in my life it has got to rank as one of the biggest.) Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Looking at picture that were taken that morning you can see the sensible people fleeing from the Tunnel. I did not realise at the time that there are big ‘slit-trenches’ on either side of the Tunnel that allow you to escape into big cavern like spaces behind the tunnel walls.
I was stuck in the Tunnel with all the bulls…. Then they closed the outer doors (to enable them to clear the course) and I thought Oh Fuck! Eventually they reopened the doors and the bulls went back out into the run (the course having been cleared). That was my opportunity to get out of the Tunnel the pile up was still about five feet tall but I ran up and over it straight into the bullring and I dived over the barriers into the crowd. I don’t think I stopped shaking for half an hour afterwards. That was my introduction to running with the bulls, because of ignorance I ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time and did not know what to do.
My mate Brucie is a bit of a nutter when it comes to running with the bulls, he does not party as much as the rest of the gang because he has to be up and focused for the run. So he sets his alarm to make sure he gets out of his pit on time. After all when there are only eight times in the year that you can get the ultimate buzz, you don’t want to waste the opportunity by sleeping in because of the booze. It has certainly paid off for him as he is recognised as one of the top foreign runners in Pamplona. In all the years I have been going, I have never pissed it up all night and then stayed up and run with the bulls. It might have only been a couple of hour but I always tried to get a bit of shut-eye. I might have still had half a brewery in my blood stream but at least I forced myself to get up in the morning. In fact that makes it a bit of a test; you really have to want it, to get out of a warm sleeping bag after only a few hour sleep to get out into the cold street to face the bulls.
Brucie keeps on trying to persuade me to get up early with him for one good run, I will agree just before I hit the sack but by the time it gets to six in the morning and he is getting up, I just mutter… maybe tomorrow Brucie. The annoying thing is that Brucie reminds me of me. I was that addicted when I was in my twenties, except a) I did not run right amongst the bulls as they went into the Tunnel as a matter of course, like Brucie does and b) I wasn’t such an ugly big-nosed bastard. Although last year I ended up running with Brucie three times, it is amazing how having a film crew with you makes it easier to get up in the morning.
Although at first the film crew took to the partying a bit too much and they had difficulty getting up in the morning. However after I had pointed out, that unless the film was running I wasn’t fucking running they soon got into the spirit of things.
Bruice likes to run with the bulls in the Tunnel and I have also known him to do the corner of Estafeta. (Although like myself he has started to run in different parts of the course depending on the crowds and if we have others running with us). These are some of the real dangerous bits of the course but then again nowhere is that easy. It is ok to increase the danger by running where it can get a bit dicey, but it is just fucking stupid to increase the danger by just having a go when you know fuck all about fuck all.
That is a technical educational phrase, which is indicative of a head in the sand attitude. You don’t have to read about how to run, you can just ask around and get somebody to show you the ropes. Just remember no knowledge is ever wasted, in particular when you are putting your bollocks on the line.
To finish off I will tell you about a time I thought that's it, I'm fucked! I realise now that there was not much I could have done about the situation. This is often the case, yes.. if you know what you are doing then the dice are not loaded against you, but you can still get a bad roll of the dice. It was back in 1980 on the 13th July, a guy running in the Town Hall square had been picked up by a bull with a horn through his back and he had been smashed against the barrier, he died. The bull had become a bit separated from the rest. I had run with the first bunch at the top of Estafeta, but I knew from the shouts of the crowd there was still one 'loco toro' to come.
I was now on the approach to the tunnel and suddenly the bull appeared but instead of it running down the middle of the course it was hugging the right hand barrier. When the bull appeared from out of the crowd it was a matter of feet away from me, and I could see the blood on it's horn. I was too static, I knew I did not have time to turn and climb out of the way and I did not have the time to sprint away from a standing start. So I did the only thing possible I sucked my gut in and stood still up against the barrier. The bull was still heading straight for me as some guy waved his newspaper in front of the bull who shook it's head and moved just past me into the course and out down the Tunnel into the arena and killed a second guy. That was my lucky day. twenty six years later I am still running with the bulls, a good bit slower perhaps but a lot wiser; then again I nearly got sucked into a pile up in the mouth of the Tunnel last year, but now….. it’s just another day at the office!
(For more pamplona advice www.pamplona.co.uk)