San Fermin is a yearly celebration in Pamplona, Spain that takes place from July 6th until July 14th. The holiday is meant to recognise Saint Fermin, and the events held to honor him are incredible. Many people wouldn´t recognise the holiday from the name alone, but the Running of the Bulls is what makes this event famous. Every year, thousands of people flock to Pamplona in order to see the infamous runnings and bullfights. While, the celebration has many more aspects to it, the Running, is the main event. Each morning, from July 7th to July 14th, at 8:00, the half a mile run down the streets of Old Pamplona takes places. Runners begin lining the course as early as 5:30, in order to get the best possible positioning for the run. Around 7:00 the fans start crowding the outside of the track to try to get as many pictures of the spectacle as possible. The entire town is ready for what everyone hopes is an entertaining run. At 8:00 sharp, the first firecracker can be heard, meaning that the bulls have been released from the pen. The runners begin making their way down the narrow Pamplona streets towards the stadium, with anxiety filling their veins. Spectators are crammed onto hostel balconies waiting to warn the runners of the first sighting of the bulls.
Coming around Dead Man´s Corner
I was able to experience this thrilling moment first hand, as I ran with the bulls on both July 8th and July 9th of 2011. We all started filing into the course at about 6:30, anticipating the most exhilarating moment of each of our lives. The police were pushing everyone into a small area near the town hall in order to get a good estimate on how many runners there would be that day. Unfortunately, on Saturday we started too far forward, and the police had to kick us and hundreds of other runners out because it was too crowded. By this time, they had stopped letting runners into the course, so we had to sprint around and sneak back in under a gate at around 7:45. With only fifteen minutes left, everyone was screaming chants to get pumped up for the run. When the first firecracker ignited at 8:00, everyone was on their toes, ready to run for their lives. Shortly after the second firecracker, the spectators on the balconies began yelling to let us runners know the bulls were coming, but we could feel the bulls running before the viewers could see them. The streets were shaking as the massive beasts navigated their way through the course. I can try to describe my feelings on paper, but the only way to really know what it is like is to be there in the moment. As we felt the bulls coming, we were more anxious than anything, but when you actually see the first one come around the corner, that feeling turns to fear and an excessive amount of adrenaline. Your heart starts beating at an uncontrollable pace as you begin to run next to these extremely dangerous animals. Some of the experienced runners attempted to taunt and touch the bulls during the run, while others stay towards the outside of the streets, avoiding them at all costs. The first day, I didn´t know what I was getting myself in to, so I stayed on the outside, but I decided to be a bit more dangerous on the second day running withing a few feet of the bulls. We all knew that we were taking the risk of being tripped or trampled as we made our way to our final goal (the stadium), but it was definitely worth it.
That´s me in the top right corner!
A few hundred lucky runners had the opportunity to follow the bulls into the bull fighting stadium, where thousands of cheering viewers are waiting for them. The entrance into the stadium is one of the most exhilarating feelings I have ever experienced. It feels as if you are coming out on to the field as a player at the Champions League final. People are screaming and cheering for all the courageous runners who just put their lives at stake. It was incredible how fast feelings and emotions changed from anxiety to fear to a sense of victory, and I loved ever moment of the wild ride. After a few minutes of taking pictures and celebrating a successful run, the baby bulls are released into the arena one at a time. Let me tell you though, these bulls are anything but babies. The so called ¨baby¨ bulls run around the arena attempting to injure anyone who is taunting them. While many people do taunt them, the Spanish people find it disrespectful if anyone tries to hurt the bull, and anyone who makes a run at this will be booed and kicked out of the stadium. I ended up staying in the arena for the first few bulls, but when the 3rd one got too close, I made a run for the stands to watch the rest of the bulls do their dirty work. After each of the baby bulls has had their turn in the arena, the run was complete, and everyone exited the stadium. The stories that can be heard of the run while exiting the arena are incredible, as everyone has their own perspective on the run. On the second day I ran, I was accompanied by 4 of my friends. It was interesting to hear each of my friends´ stories because, although we all began the run together, it becomes every man for himself when the bulls come. One of my friends got into the stadium before the bulls and had to worry about them inside, while others ran in alongside the bulls, making sure as to not step in the beasts´paths. Each of our heart´s were still pounding as we recapped the most thrilling adrenaline rush we had ever experienced. After meeting up with friends and telling stories, it was time for more celebrations.
Celebrating a successful run!
The remainder of the day, people line the streets and parks of Pamplona eating, drinking, and just enjoying the overall atmosphere that surrounds the daily activities. Pamplona is a city of little sleep during the celebration of San Fermin, as people are always awake celebrating in their own way. Despite the fact that the Running of the Bulls is the most popular event during San Fermin, there are tons of other activities to partake in. Each day there is the Gigantes y Cabezudos, or giants and big heads parade, along with the nightly bull fight, and firework spectacle to ¨end¨ the evening. I put end in quotes because the night never really ends, and the celebration is more of a continuous party that carries on until it is time to run again the next morning. San Fermin is an amazing event to be a part of, and I would recommend that everyone go at some point to really experience the holiday!
Facts about the Running of the Bulls:
-July 13th, 2011 was the fastest running since 1980, taking only 2 minutes 11 seconds to complete.
-Since 1925, 15 people have been killed during the running (The last was in 2009)
-People from all over the world attend the event, to say they RAN WITH BULLS!
-6 bulls run, with 6 steers guiding them, and 3 more steers released 2 minutes later to bring in the stragglers.
-Each of the 6 bulls is killed during a bullfight later that same day.
Written by: Steven Zonsius