Running of the Bulls Spain 2019: When Is It? How Many Bulls Are Released?

Believe it or not, each year, tourists flock to a city in Spain for the opportunity to escape the horns of a 2,000-pound animal in an event known as the running of the bulls.

Brought to the forefront of the public's mind in 1926 with American author Ernest Hemmingway's The Sun Also Rises, the event dates back centuries. Celebrated annually from July 6 to the 14, this year, the festivities honoring Saint Fermin, the patron saint of Pamplona, will kick off on Saturday.

The next morning, at 8:00 a.m. local time, bulls will be let loose in the streets of Pamplona, causing participants to run, quite literally, for their lives. Bull runs will continue daily, always beginning at 8:00 a.m., until the conclusion of the festival on July 14. More commonly than not, runners will don all-white outfits with a red neckerchief and sneakers.

When bulls get a little too close for a person's comfort, they jump to the side, often clinging to the wall, and allow the bulls to pass.

A rocket informs runners that the bulls have been released from their pens, indicating that it's time to get moving. A second rocket signals that all six bulls have been released and are making their way along the course.

Following behind the six bulls are a herd of steer, slower than the bulls, who have been tasked with guiding the six bulls along the route. All in all, the run takes about two to three minutes from start to finish.

running of the bulls pamplona spain
Participants run next to Nunez del Cuvillo fighting bulls on the fifth bullrun of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, northern Spain on July 11, 2018. JOSE JORDAN/Getty

The route is about 900 meters but runners only participate in a certain section. Those who are opting for the first stretch, identified as the slope of Calle Santo Domingo, begin the race with a chant to San Fermin.

"We ask San Fermín, being our patron saint, to guide us in the bull run and give us his blessing," the chant, translated to English, said.

When the bulls have reached the bullring, a third rocket is fired, informing runners they're no longer in the street. A fourth and final rocket indicates that the bulls are safely in the corral and the run is over.

The potentially fatal tradition requires the help of many people, who are there to ensure the safety of both the spectators and the participants. Ahead of the run, people set up a double fence to help protect casual observers from the bulls.

Pastores, or bull shepherds, run behind the bulls, armed solely with long sticks, to keep the bulls from turning around and running backward and to keep any participant from inciting the bulls, according to Navarra's tourism board. Dobladores, people with good bullfighting knowledge, arrange themselves in the bullring and are tasked with ensuring runners swiftly move to the sides of the ring and the bulls are brought into the corral as quickly as possible.

While the festival is meant to be a joyous, fun occasion, including the running of the bulls, false steps can spell death so there are very serious rules that runners and spectators must adhere to. Among the restrictions are that runners must be at least 18 years of age and cannot be intoxicated at the time of the run.

Injuries occur on a yearly basis, including serious goring and trampling, and several people have died over the years during the run. Navarro's tourism board encouraged only those who are positively certain about their decision and is equipped with cool nerves, quick reflexes and a good level of physical fitness to participate.

Running of the Bulls Spain 2019: When Is It? How Many Bulls Are Released? | U.S.