If you’ve never seen a bull run before, let us clear up any misperceptions you may have about large beasts and their relative quickness: the indisputable fact is that bulls run extremely fast and will simply not be outrun by a human being.
To get a sense of just how fast they cover the course, pick up a local paper where you can read about the bulls and see their finishing times for the previous day’s run.
Also be aware that following the bulls are six relatively harmless oxen with bells around their necks trotting at a decent pace, so don’t be surprised to see more animals on the course once the bulls have passed.
At 8am sharp, the first rocket sounds and most of the runners begin sprinting down the course. Seconds later, the second rocket sounds and chaos ensues – no one knows for sure where the bulls are, so everyone runs as if the bulls are right behind them.
The bulls pick up steam and eventually catch up with and pass the runners on Santo Domingo, Mercaderes, and Estafeta, sometimes falling violently on the turns. Some of the runners remain well ahead of the bulls throughout the course, some let the bulls pass and just run behind them, and others choose to run right alongside the animals, hitting them with rolled-up newspapers – which, by the way, is a great way to call an angry bull’s attention toward hurting you specifically. And those runners who can’t get out of the way fast enough either get gored or knocked down.
The bulls and runners ultimately make their way to the last, and possibly toughest, obstacle on the course – the Callejón, whose opening is quite narrow considering all the people and animals trying to get through. Once the bulls are inside the ring, the third and fourth rockets are fired and the run is over. If you’ve chosen to run and you’ve made it into the ring unscathed, pat yourself on the back, double-check your special parts, and be proud of your accomplishment.
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Tips for Runners:
The run is not something to take lightly, so if you don’t feel your best, either get off the course – policemen and Red Cross personnel will help you through the fence at any time – or run to the ring before the bulls get on the course. Opting out will win you some jeers from the crowd, but a hurt ego is much better than the alternative. However, if you stick to your decision to participate, then the best time to begin running is after the second rocket sounds. Starting your run at Plaza Ayuntamiento should put you in the bullring at the best possible time, right behind the bulls.
The key to giving yourself the best opportunity to complete the run unharmed (although there are absolutely no guarantees) is to stay out of the middle of the course. This may seem easy and obvious, but you aren’t just running with the bulls; you are running with thousands of other people who are running for their lives and would sacrifice you to keep themselves out of danger. Keep that in mind throughout the course and fight to stay as close to the fence as possible.
And remember that you will not outrun the bulls – as we mentioned before, this is a fact. They will overtake you at some point during the run. Keep one eye over your shoulder, because the first time you see a bull behind you, you’ll experience the biggest adrenaline rush of your life. When that first bull comes into sight, get all the way to the side of the course. Do not touch or try to grab the bulls as they pass you, do not carry anything with you like a backpack, and do not try to videotape the run or take pictures. And if you fall down, cover your head and lie still in the fetal position until trouble has passed.
Tips for Spectators:
Try to get as close to the bullring as possible so that, after the run, you have a better chance of getting in to witness even more mayhem. Tickets to enter cost *4 to *6, but the rules are pretty lax at this point, so you may be able to just work your way in.