Q&A With Cross Country Coach Forest Braden
Oct. 7, 2011
By Amy Hughes
UCLA men's cross country coach Forest Braden has piloted the Bruin men back into the national Top-25, and they are gunning for a spot at the NCAA Championship meet. UCLABruins.com spoke with Braden about the 2011 Bruins, their growth as a group and the distinguished history of UCLA distance running.
Q: The 2011 UCLA men's cross country team looks to have some great senior leadership. Tell us about them.
A: We have two fifth-year seniors in our top seven, Dylan Knight and Kent Morikawa. Last year, Dylan started out the season as our No. 1 runner then had a little setback, and Kent took over from there and finished the season as our No. 1. Now, having both of them back, they both bring a different kind of leadership to the team. It's kind of a unique style of leadership. They both are very well-respected by the other guys and both are very talented and want to take this team to the next level. That's been important - having those guys focused and really keyed in to what we're trying to do.
Q: Dylan and Kent are leading some young runners in this group. Have any of them made an impact so far this season?
A: We have four freshmen on the cross country roster and all four will be big contributors in the future. Two, right now, have really stepped up: Lane Werley from Riverside, Calif., and Shayne Collins from Massachusetts. Both have looked very good. I think they can be two of the top freshmen in the country. Both have the work ethic and the talent to do that.
Q: Distance running seems to be a sport where age matters, and the older you are, the better. Is that true?
A: The average male distance runner doesn't begin to peak until around age 26-32. It is definitely a sport where the older you get, the more mature you get, the stronger you get, the more base you have under you, the years and years of mileage start to accumulate and you get better with age.
Q: The team did some pre-season training in Mammoth, Calif., the home base for UCLA alumnus and Olympic Silver Medalist Meb Keflezighi and his coach, former UCLA head track & field coach Bob Larsen. Were you able to spend time with these two Bruins in Mammoth, and what impact did that have on the group?
A: It means a lot just to see where Meb came from and everything he's been able to accomplish. To share the coaching with them and the advice from Bob Larsen, one of the great distance coaches in America today and Meb, one of the great American distance runners ... for Meb to be a Bruin and be able to tell stories of his UCLA days is pretty cool. I know everyone really enjoyed meeting with him. He's a big celebrity in the running world, and it's nice just to see him and to hear him talk and to have a guy like that as our alumnus is pretty important to the program and to the development of the program. As a coach, to have their support really means a lot to me personally.
Bob is just so low-key and down to earth. Very willing to talk to anybody and then Meb is the same way. It's really fun to see two such good people have such great success.
Q: UCLA cross country alumni have been able to do some big things in the world of distance running lately. What does that mean for the program?
A: Alex Crabill was a fifth-year senior last year, and he just qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon. That's going to be four former Bruins who have qualified with Meb, Kyle and Drew Shackleton and Alex running the Olympic marathon trials in January (in Houston, Texas). That's kind of a cool thing to have that many former Bruins competing at the Olympic Trials.
It's great for our current student-athletes to know that when your collegiate days are done you can continue to run and do it at different levels. It can be a Meb-type level where you're one of the best and you're vying for a spot on the Olympic team or Alex Crabill, it's his first year out and he ran 2:17 in the marathon, and he's going to be in the Olympic Trials getting that experience. Your running career is not necessarily over even if you're not one of the greats like Meb. There are varying levels of success, and there are people who will have success after collegiate running, so it's a good example for the team. They can continue their careers in different ways.
Q: Last weekend, your team had a big meet at Notre Dame and has broken into the national Top-25 poll. What does that mean for the program and the rest of the season?
A: Rankings are only that. The most important thing about Notre Dame was to get in there, compete, and feel a level of competition that they hadn't seen yet this year. Just to get out and race and have a national-caliber field around them. Then to beat some very good teams, some teams that we can get team points against in order to get an at-large bid for nationals.
Getting ranked in the Top-25 is important for the program as far as getting the word out. It legitimizes the program as far as what we've been doing. Our final goal is obviously the national meet and doing as well as we can there. We feel that if things go right we can be a top-10 team in the country. That would be a huge step for our program.
Q: The Pac-12 has added two new members for the 2011-12 school year. What does that mean in terms of Pac-10 cross country?
A: Before this year, the Pac-10 was certainly in the conversation for the best distance conference in the country. Now, the Pac-12 is undoubtedly the best conference in the country for distance running and cross country. Colorado really adds to that. They have a dynamic men's and women's program, and they are going to add a different element, a different style of team than the rest of the Pac-12 teams. Having them in the conference is a good thing. It's going to push everyone up, and it's going to make things more interesting.
Q: You have previously mentioned the importance of your group running as a team and finishing within a tight window at their races. What are the benefits for running as a group like that?
A: At Notre Dame, the spread from our No. 1 runner to our No. 6 runner was 16 seconds. That's a pretty narrow gap of time. At all the races that can really pay off because if our sixth and seventh man can get in front of other team's fourth and fifth men, then we will be able to have a better chance of beating them. Now, in terms of our depth, I'd say we're a top-five team in the country. I don't think there are more than four teams ahead of us that have greater depth. Now, it's about getting those front runners to truly become front runners and competing with top guys on top teams.
Running as a team is very important in cross country. You gain so much confidence by having your teammates around you. You can key off of each other. You get your confidence when you know that your team is running well and you have all five guys right there. You don't want to be the one athlete who falls off the pack. It's a great thing to have the depth that we do.
Q: You haven't hung up your competitive running shoes, winning the Santa Monica 5000 10k race last weekend. Why do you continue to compete on top of all of your coaching duties?
A: I still love competing. I love the sport. I still train regularly, although I have to squeeze in my workout around practice and around work. But I still just love running and competing. I'll go out on long runs and easy runs with the guys and morning runs with the girls. It's nice just to run with them and get that team feel and get that dynamic.
With racing, you kind of set a good example. It's not just talk. They see what I do when I race, and I practice what I preach. I'm going to get out there and run with confidence. I'm going to run strong. I'm never going to give up. At the same time, it's nice to be a good example for the other athletes, and I hope to inspire them in some way.
CLick for Bruin Video