By Mike Weland
Forest Braden made a name for himself as a runner while at Bonners Ferry High School by the time he graduated in 2002, and he hasn’t slowed down yet. He recently set a new course record running a venerable race in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he now lives with his wife, Shelly, and their three devoted cats.
Now cross country and track and field coach at College Of William & Mary, Forest hit the tape Saturday at the Jamestown High School Swamp Run 5K at 15 minutes, 41 seconds, just ahead of former race record holder Adam Otstott, who claimed his course record of 15:44 in 2007.
While a Badger, Braden was a multiple state 3A champion, hitting 4:18 in the 1,600 and 9:15 in the 3,200. He routinely won the annual Kootenai River Run.
He went on to Boise State, running a personal best 7:58 in the 3,000 meters, 13:45 in the 5,000 and 28:52 in the 10,000. Graduating with a degree in history in 2007, he helped lead Boise State to five WAC team championships during his career, including sweeping the indoor and outdoor conference championships his final two years.
He served as assistant track coach at Gonzaga while continuing to compete nationally, and he landed the distance coaching position at UCLA in 2009.
He took over as head distance coach of the prestigious William & Mary Tribe track program in August, 2017, and despite age and injury, he remains an elite runner, the Swamp Run being the second event in the 2021 Colonial Road Runners Grand Prix series.
At W&M, Braden is responsible for all coaching, recruiting, and administrative aspects for leading the Tribe’s nationally-renowned cross country teams in the fall, and for the distance and middle-distance athletes during the indoor and outdoor track & field seasons.
In his first year, 2017-18, Braden led the W&M men to the CAA cross country championship, sweeping the year-end awards including his first Coach of the Year award. The Tribe’s JP Trojan was the individual conference champion and also earned CAA Athlete of the Year honors, while Zach Skolnekovich was named the conference Rookie of the Year as seven runners were named to the All-CAA team.
During the track campaigns, Trojan was an NCAA Semifinals qualifier outdoors in both the 5,000m and the 10,000m, becoming the first Tribe men’s athlete to attempt that double at the same NCAA meet, and earned CAA Track Athlete of the Year to become the first to sweep the Athlete of the Year honors since 2014.
William & Mary took the top four spots in the 800m at the CAA Championships behind individual champion Raul Chavez-Gutierrez, with Trojan also winning the 5,000m and Faris Sakallah completing his career with the championship at 10,000m.
Heading into the 2018-19 season, Braden was given charge of the Tribe’s highly successful women’s program as well.
His athletes swept the CAA cross country championships, and Braden became the first person in CAA history to win Coach of the Year for both men’s and women’s cross country in a career, much less the same season.
The Tribe had a combined eight athletes earn All-CAA honors, led by a runner-up finish for Ryan McGorty and third-place showing for Lauren Finikiotis.
On the track, Miles Owens and Ryan McGorty both earned honorable-mention All-America honors outdoors, after advancing to the national semifinals in the 800m and the 1,500m, respectively. Both men also won CAA titles in their respective events, and Evan Goodell swept the 5,000m and 10,000m titles at the conference meet. Owens would go on to be named the CAA Track Athlete of the Year, while Goodell earned CAA Rookie of the Year honors.
Chris Short, after finishing second in the IC4A indoor 800m in 2018, won the IC4A Championship at 1,000m during the winter indoor campaign in 2019.
The 2019 cross country season saw Braden win his fourth CAA Coach of the Year honor, after leading the W&M men to their 20th-consecutive CAA Championship.
That’s the second-longest active streak in the nation, and one of just four winning streaks in NCAA Division I history that reached 20+ years. The Tribe men had five athletes named All-CAA, and the W&M women also had a conference-best four women named All-CAA as well.
Braden has also been active in the national and international coaching ranks, serving as the men’s and women’s distance coach during the 2015 World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea.
He helped both select and coach the U.S. team in the middle and distance events at the international championships, including helping guide Shaquille Walker to the gold medal in the 800m run.
Braden was also the coach for elite marathoner Katja Goldring, who was ninth at the 2016 women’s marathon Olympic Trials, as well as for Nick Hartle, who made three-straight USAT&F Championships in the 800m.
Old friends who’d like to congratulate or catch up with Forest can email him at email@example.com.