A bull took the lead early in the fifth running of the bulls in the northern Spanish city of Pamplona, making for an exciting spectacle on Monday for runners and spectators alike at the San Fermin festival.

Several runners fell down as the black bull from the Fuente Ymbro estate raced past them, completing its run in barely two minutes and leaving the rest of the herd 30 seconds behind.

Runners sought out the blessing of Saint Fermin before the traditional firing of a rocket in front of Pamplona city hall, marking the start of the run.

The lead bull trampled a runner who could not stay ahead of it, and several other runners suffered the same fate, but no one was gored.

The nine-day San Fermin festival got under way on July 6 with the traditional firing of a rocket in front of Pamplona city hall amid the shouts of thousands of people, many of them visitors from around the world.

A total of 2.7 million euros ($3.8 million) was budgeted this year for the festival, whose program includes 342 music shows, 137 family related activities and 33 events involving bulls.

The runs in Pamplona are filled with tension and emotion, and occasionally result in tragedy, with 15 runners having been killed since statistics began to be kept in the early 20th century and many others having suffered gorings and other injuries.

The run to the bull ring is especially dangerous because some people take part in the event after all-night drinking binges, which makes them reckless and more likely to get too close to animals that weigh in excess of 500 kilos (1,100 pounds).

The running of the bulls is monitored by experts who control the route and try to prevent accidents, but, inevitably, runners fall, suffer cuts and bruises, and are even gored by the animals.

As many as 1 million visitors from around the world descend on Pamplona during the festival - many of them Americans but also Frenchmen, Britons, Italians, Germans and Latin Americans.

The festival, begun about 400 years ago, was popularized by Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises."