After spending many years covering track and field, I saw some great invitational events that brought together athletes from all over competing in a variety of events.
They were annual events that many looked forward to seeing on a yearly basis, as people looked forward to seeing the top athletes on that particular year.
Over at Dublin High, they have such an event. The 14th Annual Dublin Distance Fiesta took place March 18-19, bringing together 150 schools and almost 3,000 athletes for the two-day event.
With some athletes entering multiple events, there was 4,300 entries overall.
The “Fiesta” part of the event title fits as it has become a party for the distance running universe. The event feature a DJ spinning tunes throughout the days.
Dublin has established itself as one of the top distance running programs in the state, so it is fitting the Gaels play host to the event.
The Fiesta is the brainchild of Dublin coach Chris Williams, who started the event in 2008 when he was the coach at Skyline High in Oakland.
The next year he came over to Dublin and brought the meet with him. They started with 39 teams that first year and that has grown almost four times the amount.
“We put on a good meet,” said Williams. “A good retention for an event is usually around 50 percent. Ours is 92 percent – they keep coming back and bring others with them.”
So how crazy of an event is the Saturday sessions? The day starts at 8 a.m. and finishes around 10 p.m. There are 146 heats run during the day, with about 15 seconds between the end of one race and the start of the next.
“The meet is exciting – there is always a race going off,” said Williams.
Williams turns to his staff of 15, 60 parent volunteers, and his athletes that are not distance runners, which numbers around 150.
The talent at the meet is off the charts. All the heats are seeded by times, with the top seeds always determining the fastest time of the day – or the winner.
The success of the Gaels as a distance program is a big draw.
“The fact that our team has been noticed is big help,” said Williams. “Teams look and say, it’s Dublin, let’s go there.”
Every year there are great times turned in and the sheer size of the event makes it attractive.
“Our meet is the biggest in the country,” said Williams. “And we have more (personal best marks) than any other meet in the country.”
As you can imagine, with a talent level the Fiesta boasts, success often follows at the CIF State Track and Field Championships later in the season.
In fact, there was an incredible three-year run with winners of the 3,200 at the Fiesta that also won the gold at the state meet.
In 2016, Cooper Teare of St. Joseph’s in Alameda turned in the double. The next year it was Callum Bolger of San Luis Obispo that took both races, with Fiesta runners Luis Grijalva of Armijo High finishing second, and Teare finishing third. Grijalva was the 2016 CIF State Cross Champion.
In 2018, Liam Anderson of Redwood High won in Dublin, then took the gold in the 1,600 at State.
This year the race of the day may have been the girls’ 3,200 where the first two runners Hanne Thomsen (Montgomery) and Sophia Nordenholz (Albany), both shattered the existing meet record.
One East Bay Athletic League runner took a title Saturday. Cate Peters of Monte Vista crossed the line first with a 2:11.45 for the win.
What seems to bring the Fiesta all together is the music.
“Once the gun goes off in a race, it’s dead air,” explained Williams. “(The music) really gives a good vibe, not just for the athletes, but for the parents and spectators. Track is a sport that is not always user friendly because of the down time. This keeps the fans entertained.”
The idea for the music started with the initial meet as Williams was a former DJ and had all the equipment. That initial meet also provided one of the more entertaining races.
“That first year we had the top three teams in the Distance Medley,” said Williams. “It was (Skyline), Petaluma, and Monte Vista. A runner from Redwood requested ‘Like a Virgin’ by Madonna. The race starts, then music starts cranking Madonna – it was hilarious.”
Like the meet, the music has grown as well. Williams now uses a DJ service for the meet.
“We had over 800 requests this year,” said Williams. “We had an older coach from the Sacramento area requested 50’s and 60’s music for an hour straight.”
What does the future hold for the meet? As it grows every year, does Williams cap the size of the meet?
“I don’t know,” said Williams of limiting the meet. “I will have to look at everything.”
One thing he did this year was add the Friday night portion of the event, running six heats for the girls and seven for the boys in the 3,200.
“We ran some of the slower 3,200 heats on Friday night and it went fantastic,” explained Williams. “Maybe we can add like a 4x800 relay on Friday as well.”
There is one thing for sure – the Dublin Distance Fiesta will always be a party.