Runner's Guide to Navigating Pamplona’s Dangerous Bull Run Route

Posted by Juan Pedro Rodriguez, Special Travel Contributor on Feb 22nd 2024

Runner's Guide to Navigating Pamplona’s Dangerous Bull Run Route

Each morning, at precisely 8 am, a rocket launched near the upper corral announces the start of the Encierro the morning running of the bulls where any soul of legal age (18) can step onto the 875-meter (929-yard) route and risk their life sprinting before a rampaging herd of six, 1500 lb., Toro Bravos specially bred for this day. 

Danger is in the air while as many as 3,500 thrill seeking, dare devils pack the slick and narrow streets moving as fast as their legs will carry them until they bail out, are pushed aside, knocked down, flipped heels over-head, trampled, or gored. 

Adrenaline stimulates a sudden release of epinephrine in every runner. The hormone rushes into the blood, triggering immediate changes in the heart, lungs, and brain that deliver the instantaneous jolt of power and energy needed to face down danger or escape from it. 

This is risky business. 

There is plenty of shocking TV footage and videos of runners being gored, trampled, hoisted in the air, and smashed against walls. Even the most well-informed and experienced runners can succumb to injury during the Pamplona bull run. 

Since record-keeping began in 1910, 16 people have been killed in Pamplona during a morning running of the bulls at the Festival de San Fermin. Most were gored. According to Pamplona officials, hundreds of runners are seriously injured annually during this dangerous event. Many suffer minor scrapes and grazes, others have broken bones and ligament damage, some sustain head and brain injuries, or are gored. The gorings can be very gruesome, and account for the majority of the bull run fatalities. The second most common cause of death for runners is being struck by horns, which often leads to the massive head and brain injuries. Pamplona takes this very seriously. Over 200 people work together each day to react instantly to help those needing immediate medical attention. Special triage areas are created along the route and medics are prepared with ambulances nearby to deliver rapid emergency medical treatment for life-threatening injuries. 

The history of the Running of the Bulls demonstrates that the first morning’s bull run of the new Festival de San Fermin is the most dangerous, logging the highest number of injuries and deaths over the years. According to Pamplona records, Cebada Gago bulls have gored more runners and caused more injuries than any other breed since 1985. The ratio of runners to bulls is off the charts and most people are hurt by other runners as thousands move down the streets with their hearts jumping out of their chests. Imagine traveling at high speed on an interstate highway when a distracted driver goes sideways producing a massive chain reaction collision as one car piles into another. At the 1977 San Fermin Fiesta, Jose Joaquin Esparza of Navarra, Spain fell at the entrance of the bullring, a notoriously dangerous spot that is narrow and easily blocked. Esparza suffocated underneath a heap of other runners. 

It's a little alarming to consider that more than half the runners are foreigners and two out of every three are running for the first time with minimal preparation. 

But considering the psychology is truly fascinating. Thousands of adventurous souls seeking to connect with a primordial relationship between man and bull — to have the intense experience of a brush with death on the tips of a bull’s horn – chasing a moment that may prove glorious, or deadly. There something magnetic about participating in an ancient spectacle that is at once horrific and poetic. 

Everyone’s fantasy is to capture the perfect run which is carried out directly in front of a 1,200-pound black bull with huge horns just a few feet behind you, froth dangling from his mouth, and his breath warm at your back. It’s known as “running on the horns.” That means the animal accepts you as his leader and will follow you. Those who have done it say the moment is transcendental … that it makes you feel like you are one with the god Taurus … and that once you know this elusive feeling of euphoria, you have had a religious experience offered to you under the blessed protection of Saint Fermin. 

It’s important that every runner makes a concerted effort to be as prepared as possible before tackling their chosen section of the Encierro. It’s for the benefit of both you and your fellow runners. Don’t imagine you are going to run the full distance. It won’t happen. Be prepared for a short sprint in a spot that will give you the best possible chance for a positive outcome. 

It’s recommended all rookies avail themselves of the opportunity to walk every step of the bull run route with an expert runner to make their plan for how they will attempt the course, and to learn what to do when things go sideways. It’s also important to have carefully studied the rules, and to have observed a run from a balcony overlooking the Encierro. This allows you to form a clear picture of how the bull run unfolds and gives you a valuable sense of the speed at which everything happens. If this is your first time attending the bull run, we definitely recommend renting a Pamplona balcony along the route for a front row view. We offer Pamplona balcony rentals along the route and at varying levels. 

If you are interested in participating in the Bull Run, we have the perfect Running of the Bulls 2024 package to make sure your are prepared and filled with confidence during your run. We offer a Pamplona tour package that is designed for running and adrenaline enthusiasts alike, our Run For Your Life Package offers a chance with an expert to prepare you for the bull run alongside one of the most famous Pamplona bull runners: Dennis Clancey. He will provide invaluable tips for any first time or repeat runner on the bull run route and spend time with guests sharing his personal love for the Pamplona culture. 

The most seasoned and successful runners have participated for years, they’ve become obsessed with improving, watched endless hours of video footage, and sought the advice of gurus and today’s best runners leading the bulls along the route. 

The Encierro bull run route stretches 875-meters as it snakes along narrow streets through the Casco Viejo (Old Quarter) of Pamplona. The bull run map looks short enough but bear in mind that these centuries-old streets are riddled with hazards for both runner and animal. There are sharp right angles, perilous slopes, uneven pavers, and a tricky bottleneck at the end where the beasts are funneled into the bullring at the famed Plaza de Toros

The route is distributed along three main streets in Pamplona: Santo Domingo, Mercaderes and Estafeta

The Pamplona bull run begins at the bottom of Calle de Santo Domingo, a sloping street that is hemmed in between ancient stone walls. This first section of the bull run spans 280 meters and is widely considered the most dangerous. Why? Because the bulls are fresh and full of energy. Once they blast out of their holding pen, they are breathing down the necks of the runners in a matter of seconds. The street has a slight uphill incline, enabling the bulls to run at lightning speed, propelled by the shouts and chaos of the crowds. 

Plaza del Ayuntamiento (Town Hall Square), also known as Plaza Consistorial, forms the second stretch of the route. It is flatter and slightly wider as the path crosses Plaza del Ayuntamiento, which feeds into Mercaderes. This section is roughly 100 meters long, and about nine meters wide. The herd slows down marginally as the road makes a slight left bend onto Mercaderes street. The beasts tend to brush along the right side of the fence, giving runners a decent shot at making a fast exit on the opposite side if need be. 

The Calle de Mercaderes section of the bull run route is one of the shortest and most perilouss. The Encierro takes a hard right at the end of Mercaderes as it turns onto Estafeta Street, also known as “La Curva.” It is here that runners are encouraged to be extra careful as the bulls are pushed outward toward the barricade by their own inertia. Getting caught between animal and wall can cause a very serious injury or death. This hard bend has the name “Dead Man’s Corner” for good reason.

Calle de la Estafeta is the longest and most famous leg of the bull run course. It spans some 300 meters. After Dead Man’s Corner, the route straightens out, allowing the bulls to gain tremendous speed. It is virtually impossible to outrun the horned beasts on Estafeta. Every year, the bulls routinely overtake runners who don’t clear the way. Veteran runners know the importance of sliding aside quickly, without impeding other runners or catching a rogue horn. 

Telefonica and Callejon is the last stretch of the run, and while the bulls may be somewhat slower, many of the most serious incidents occur here chasing down the narrow path that leads into Pamplona’s bullring. This section is about 100 meters long and passes in front of the Telephone Exchange building (Telefonica). It narrows into a tight corridor, only 3.5 meters wide, known as the Callejon. A highly dangerous bottleneck forms as the bulls push forward onto the Plaza del Toros arena floor where they will fight that evening. We, also, offer Pamplona bullfight tickets during the Festival de San Fermin. 

Ideally, all this knowledge will help as you carefully consider tackling the Encierro this summer, and assist you in making all the necessary preparations to achieve success. If someone you know is more interested in watching than running, they can always rent space on a safe and comfortable balcony and join the hundreds of thousands cheering you on.