WATCH SATURDAY RACING AT THE 2023 DUBLIN DISTANCE FIESTA LIVE ON MILESPLIT
Music. Dancing. Sombreros. Speed.
It's not a track meet. It's a party.
Dublin Distance Fiesta is one of the best track parties in the nation, and it continues to deliver a stellar experience for both California athletes and beyond as it heads into its 13th year.
"What makes the meet so fun is how grand it feels," said Adam Joseph, a junior at Santa Rosa High School. "You don't have to be some All-American runner to participate in Dublin, but it feels like it's the State Meet.
The meet originally began at Skyline High School in 2008, where Chris Williams previously coached. When he moved to Dublin, the meet came with him.
"In a previous life, I was a DJ, so I said let's do a distance meet and put music to it," said Chris Williams, the meet director and head cross country and track and field coach at Dublin High School. "When I went to name the meet, everything was a carnival or a festival and I wanted something different."
A fellow coach - Dave Ponas of Oakland High - suggested Williams call it a "fiesta."
"So it became a fiesta," Williams said.
The number of heats during the meet is staggering, but so is the efficiency - Williams estimates his team has gotten down the time between heats to roughly 15 seconds. In 2022, 160 heats were run over the course of a day-and-a-half to propel nearly 3000 athletes from 149 high schools to fast times.
"It's about the bullpen - the bullpen is the most important job on the track. The starter and the bullpen have to work hand in hand. Our bullpen crew is three deep," said Williams. "Each person is in charge of a waterfall. They all are giving instructions, and they give the starter's instructions in advance. There's a fourth person developing another heat in the background."
At the helm of the Dublin bullpen is Patrick Kleinow, another Dublin teacher who has volunteered for the meet for 10 years.
"It's one of the coolest feelings in the world to work DDF, and watching the athletes come in - some of them are scared and some of them are so ready to run," said Kleinow. "It's awesome, every year I always look forward to it. I'm not talking very much in class the week of DDF because I know I need to save my voice."
DUBLIN BY THE NUMBERS
Number of Sombreros - 16 (will be 26 this year!)
Number of songs played - "I can't say how many were played but I can tell you that we had 837 songs requested through our 'request line.' " - Chris Williams
Number of shirts/bags given out - 484/60
Number of Volunteers to make it happen - ~80
What makes Dublin unique is not just the music and the bullpen, but the format. Williams, a math teacher at the high school, dials in the seed times of the heats to match perfectly with their competitors. This gives every athlete in a heat nearly equal opportunity to win. Imagine running a heat with 25 boys who run 4:59 and guessing who the winner might be? That's Dublin.
"I did Dublin for the first time last year and loved the whole thing. The heats were seeded perfectly allowing for great competition, (and) the lights and music made the vibe amazing," said Calvin Tudor, a junior at Redwood High School. "The people were super nice, and the races themselves were held like a machine -super efficient."
The heat seeding is a critical piece of the Dublin experience.
"With the depth of field at the meet, it allows the JV kids to have an opportunity to run in the front and win," said Williams. "If you're developing a program, you want a freshman to learn how to execute and run a race. In dual meets they often have to run together boys and girls in a 3200m and have to get lapped, but here they might win a race for the first time in their high school career."
To top it off, the top three athletes in each heat are awarded DDF gear that is potentially more valuable to many athletes than a medal. If an athlete makes it in the fastest heat of the day, they have a chance to earn the coveted sombrero.
"There was a track family at Skyline that had a connection to a big mariachi group and they got sombreros donated as prizes and decorated them for us," said Williams. "That first year of the sombreros will always be hard to beat."
Another piece of the energy of Dublin is the voice of the announcer, who for the past two years has been Scott Abbott. Abbott can be seen running up and down the field delivering play by play notes for each heat no matter how fast, spiking the energy of the stadium to a frenzy when it comes down to the final 200m.
"It's sort of a rite of spring for distance runners in NorCal," said Abbott. "It's one of those landmark events and it's the true beginning of the season for many - because it doesn't feel like things happen until Dublin happens and gets things going."
And Dublin sure gets things going.
The number of personal records hit at the meet is a too numerous and nearly an impossible statistic to track - although Williams recalls one year where he received an estimate around 80 percent.
"The number one thing that comes to mind for me about Dublin is PRs," says Kleinow. "My favorite thing is to look at results afterward online and see the number of kids who have hit PRs. I always want kids to be improving and that's what we give these kids an opportunity to do."
Abbott agrees. "It's a manifestation of what's great about our sport," he said. "It's about competing against yourself and being the best that you can be."
The records set at Dublin aren't just the personal kind, they're also the state champion kind.
"Lining up the veterans in the sombrero heat is always fun, because they are on top of it and want it," said Kleinow. "I'm potentially assigning a lane for a future Olympian, these guys are so talented."
Last year, the sombrero heats delighted the crowd with record-breaking performances in both the 1600m and 3200m from the extraordinary racing trio of Riley Chamberlain (Del Oro/SJ), Hanne Thomsen (Montgomery/NC) and Sophia Nordenholz (Albany/NC). All three girls broke meet records in those events last year. In the boys, the 800m record was lowered by Yutaka Roberts of El Camino (CC).
"The enjoyment of the event has increased, the pandemic opened my eyes to that," said Williams. "I think it was always there, but the biggest changes have been the excitement factor."
Williams continues to want to raise the bar for the meet, and hopes to add a title sponsor so he can pursue more talent to bring into the heats from out of state. He'd also like to see a sub-four mile go down in the boys' sombrero heat.
Regardless, the athletes competing at Dublin will continue to be inspired.
"There's something about the heats, the blaring music, and the nicest stadium I've been to in California that makes it so special," said Joseph. "It's unlike any other meet I've ever done."
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Melody Karpinski is the head coach at Montgomery (NC) HS and a regular contributor to MileSplit
Photos by Jennifer Koziel, Jeffrey Parenti, and Dan Tyree