World & Nation

2019 Running of the Bulls: Defying death on the streets of Pamplona

Daring runners risk injury from being gored or trampled during the running of the bulls that are the highlight of the annual Fiesta de San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain.
(Jaime Reina / AFP/Getty Images)

The running of the bulls — and the nine days of nonstop partying that accompany them — draws about 1 million spectators to Pamplona, a city of 200,000 in northern Spain, for the Fiesta de San Fermin every year. Many foreigners imagine following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, who channeled his experience in the 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.”

Hundreds of runners with varying degrees of fitness and scant sleep the night before race ahead of or next to the bulls charging through Pamplona’s cobblestone streets to the city’s bullring. Records dating back to 1910 list 16 deaths from the event.

Above it all

Second bullrun of Sanfermines, Pamplona, Spain - 08 Jul 2019
Runners, or "mozos," clad in white with red bandannas, run with the bulls in Pamplona. JP Urdiroz / EPA/Shutterstock

During the festival, Pamplona’s population swells from 200,000 to around 1.2 million, with visitors attracted by the adrenaline boost of bull runs along the 850-meter course — and the serious partying.

In the thick of it

Participants and bulls are inches apart during the third bull run of the Fiesta de San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain. Jaime Reina / AFP/Getty Images

Up close and personal

A runner in full stride leads a pack of bulls around a sharp curve in the old city streets of Pamplona. (Jim Hollander / EPA/Shutterstock)
A participant is tossed by a heifer bull during a bullrun in Pamplona. (Jaime Reina / AFP / Getty Images)
A 'mozo' or runner is hit by a bull during the second bullrun in Pamplona. (Daniel Fernandez / EPA / Rex / Shutterstock)
Top, a runner in full stride leads a pack of bulls around a sharp curve in the streets of Pamplona. Above, one mozo is snagged by a bull by his shirt, and another is knocked to the street. (Jim Hollander / EPA/Shutterstock; Jaime Reina / AFP/Getty Images; Daniel Fernandez / EPA/Shutterstock)

A California lawyer who wanted to get a selfie while running with the bulls this year almost lost his life in the process.

A charging bull ran over and gored Jaime Alvarez of San Francisco in the neck during the first run of the festival.

Too close

Jaime Alvarez, a lawyer from California, sits in a hospital in Pamplona after being gored by a bull. (Alvaro Barrientos / Associated Press)

“The joy and the excitement of being in the bullring quickly turned into a scare, into real fear for my life,” Alvarez, 46, said Monday at a hospital where he was recovering from surgery.

Doctors told Alvarez the bull’s horn went deep into his neck and fractured his cheekbone. That it didn’t hit the jugular vein or major arteries was described to the injured patient as “beyond miraculous.”

End of the run

A bull climbs over a pile of runners in the bullring at the end of the course in Pamplona, Spain. Ander Gillenea / AFP/Getty Images

Protests by animal rights groups have become a fixture in Pamplona in recent years. On the eve of the festival, dozens of semi-naked activists staged a performance simulating speared bulls lying dead on Pamplona’s cobbled streets to draw attention at what they see as animal cruelty for the sake of human entertainment.

Animal rights activists stage a protest against bullfighting in Pamplona. (Villar Lopez / EPA/Shutterstock)

Bullfights are protected under the Spanish Constitution as part of the country’s cultural heritage.

All together now

Revelers enjoy the atmosphere during the opening day of the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain. (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty Images)

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