PORTSMOUTH — The first time was all about getting to know the experience, while the second a year ago was all about just running.
Now, on Saturday and it’s easy to ask, is the third Division II boys state cross country race a charm for Portsmouth junior Charles Putnam?
As in can he, and will he, reach his personal goal of a top-four performance —or even better yet capture the individual Division II boys state championship.
For Putnam, it’s quite possible, as he will run in the state cross country championship race at 1 p.m. —and once again inside the confines of an anticipated sunsplashed Fortress Obetz, just outside of Columbus.
Last season, under summery-like skies and with a temperature topping out around 80 degrees, Putnam put forth arguably the run of his young lifetime —setting a then-personal record in finishing in a fast 15 minutes and 59 seconds, and eighth place in the race.
That’s right, Putnam packed himself in among the top-10 throughout the race’s majority, posted a sub 16-second time, was the last of eight Division II boys in under 16 minutes, and was only 28 seconds away from unbelievably winning the state championship.
You read that last part right.
He even appeared among the top-five at the one-mile mark, making indeed a dramatic jump from his freshman 49th-place in 16 minutes and 55 seconds.
For this year, does that dramatic jump include vaulting all the way to the top of the awards podium for Division II boys?
Putnam, in an interview on Tuesday with The Portsmouth Daily Times, discussed his expectations for Saturday afternoon.
En route to qualifying for this year’s state race, his hunt for October and into November included setting a personal-best 15 minutes and 28 seconds at the Unioto Invitational —as well as winning a third consecutive Ohio Valley Conference championship and placing third in BOTH the Southeast District AND Region 7 meets.
That’s the second straight October he has done that.
“I’m really excited. I found out from my dad (Shawnee State University head cross country coach Eric Putnam) that our regional (in Division II) had the fastest times (in the state). This weekend, it’s going to be pretty competitive. It’s going to me, the kid from Fairfield Union, the kid from Marietta, we’re all going to be out front. The plan is that I really want to beat those guys. I really do, and I know I can,” said Putnam. “I like to talk myself out of it, and it’s all in the mind, but I am there physically and I can do this.”
At the Southeast District race, at the University of Rio Grande, Putnam —in 16:20 —placed third behind Fairfield Union senior Marcus Runkle’s 15:47 and Marietta junior Ezra Minard’s 16:14.
The trio repeated a 1-2-3 finish at the Pickerington North regional meet —with Putnam running third again in 15:47, and behind both Runkle in 15:40 and Minard in 15:46.
So Putnam definitely closed the gap, and his goal is to overtake them on the flat-like Fortress Obetz 5K course.
Runkle and Minard weren’t on the Division II radar last year, so Putnam was simply asked of how did they emerge.
“The Marietta kid (Minard) was supposed to be Division I, but because of their enrollment or whatever, they (Marietta) dropped to Division II this year. The Fairfield Union kid (Runkle) has been injured every single year until this year. Never ran in districts or regionals, let alone state. I’ve never met this kid in my life, but as I understand it, their coach is said to be a former Olympic athlete. This guy isn’t messing around and is pretty serious about cross country, as am I,” explained a candid Putnam. “He (Runkle) is a tough opponent and is really good. I’ve just never faced him because he’s been injured so much until this year. Never seen him or the Marietta kid until this year’s district meet. Completely new to me.”
But, what’s now not new —and is rather old hat —is Putnam racing against Runkle and Minard, and even more importantly at the highest level in the state.
Last season, junior Jack Agnew of Dayton Carroll claimed the state title in 15:31, Noah Graham of Marlington was the runner-up right behind in 15:33, and Connor Shingleton of Minerva muscled for third in 15:39.
The next foursome finishing consisted of CVCA’s Drennan Adkins in 15:45, Unioto’s Corey Schobelock in 15:46, Woodridge’s Aaron Dutt in 15:55, and Marlington’s Colin Cernansky in 15:58.
“Everybody that was ahead of me last year was a senior, expect for the winner, and he was a junior (Agnew). But he is running again this year. My dad did a lot of research the other day, and he ran only a 16:11 at his regional. I don’t know and have no idea if he has slowed down this year or is just saving it for the state,” said Putnam, of the defending state champion.
For Putnam — with his father, the 1989 Division I state runner-up and Shawnee State University cross country head coach Eric Putnam playing the role of cheerleader and maybe more importantly scouting director —placing among the top four is a most realistic goal.
The top-30 finishers in the boys Division II race are named all-Ohio, with the top-20 appearing on the medals stand.
“He’s completely narrowed it down for me, and honestly, there are only four maybe five guys who can compete with me this year. I believe that wholeheartedly and the top four is the way to go here,” said the younger Putnam.
Putnam’s confidence also extended to his physical and even mental health, claiming “I’m probably the healthiest and strongest I’ve ever been in my entire life.”
“My freshman year was really just about making it to state and experimenting around, just seeing what I could do. My sophomore year, I already had my hands dirty, so I knew what to expect and placed eighth. The competition was still so hard because I was still young, but this year, I am really expecting to either win, or to finish in the top four. I mean I’m a lot better than I was last year for sure,” he said, with a smile. “I’m here now, and I’m going to try and put on a show.”
Indeed, in that case, it’s showtime for Putnam —as he hopes the third time is absolutely the proverbial charm.
“I’m really, really excited and about as ready to run as I’ve ever been,” he said. “Hopefully, everything goes right and as it was planned to be.”