OBETZ — A year ago, truth be told, Charles Putnam pulled off the 5K race of his young life.
Last Saturday, in his third Division II boys state cross country race, Putnam ran for a back-to-back and now two-time top-10 and all-Ohio performance —despite his personal disappointment, and not meeting his desired goal for being one of the first four.
In his words even, “that was the worst race I’ve ran all year”.
That’s because on a cloudy — and amid a high-wind warning — for Franklin County afternoon inside Fortress Obetz, the Portsmouth junior Putnam placed ninth out of 180 Division II runners, and only a year after he placed eighth in the exact same race.
This time, his official time was 16 minutes, six seconds and six-tenths of another second —as Ezra Minard of Marietta (16:01.2) passed him in the final 50 meters to take seventh by five tics, and Woodridge’s Seth Singer (16:06.2) stunned him right at the finish line and finished four-tenths of one second ahead.
But, truthfully, chin up Charles.
He’s a two-time top-10 Division II finisher —and a three-time boys state cross country race qualifier.
The top-30 finishers in the boys Division II race are named all-Ohio, with the top-20 appearing on the medals stand.
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.
He was quite confident coming into this year’s 5K —claiming “I’m probably the healthiest and strongest I’ve ever been in my entire life”.
But, in his view, this race will be one to unfortunately forget.
Seriously setting a goal for a top-four finish, and even a state championship, Putnam struggled —he said —as soon as the starting gun went off.
The first 50 meters to one mile saw Putnam packed tightly in —and absolutely nowhere to get out.
“The first mile in was pretty rough. There was a lot of pushing and shoving, and some of the entrances to some of the obstacles ended up being very narrow. I got really exhilarated and my heart was beating really fast. I almost tripped and fell and that would have taken a lot out of me,” he recalled. “And I just don’t work well running in large groups.”
There was a foursome he wanted to make it five —as he stood seventh or eighth at the one-mile mark, but by the two-mile mark was a distant fifth.
As he crossed the two-mile marker, Putnam was all alone — with no runners around him.
“There were four, maybe five guys ahead of me and I tried my best to stay with them, but I just couldn’t. I completely talked myself out of staying with them,” he admitted. “I ran alone for the second mile and into the third mile. I was running completely by myself. No one else to go off with.”
In the third mile, physical pain was unfortunately setting in —and he fell back from fifth to seventh.
It ended up with Minard and Singer passing him for a possible seventh-place —and Sheridan’s Tate Ruthers (10th in 16:09.5) running right behind him.
“On the last mile, I was hurting so bad. I had to let a few people pass me,” said Putnam, with a look of dejection and his emotions setting in. “I was losing breath, I was already out of breath from the first mile. I tried to stay with everybody up ahead, but I couldn’t. It was so painful, and I was so tired. It was just so exhausting.”
Putnam fought back fatigue that turned tears, as he embraced his father and Shawnee State University cross country coach Eric Putnam —along with some of the Bears’ runners which are his friends.
Putnam trains with some of the SSU runners.
The first six runners all finished within 31 seconds of each other, all ran under 15 minutes and 58 seconds, and three of that half-dozen represented Marlington.
Colin Cernansky of Marlington captured the state championship in 15:26, while last season’s state champion Jack Agnew of Dayton Carroll was the runner-up in 15:29.
Marcus Runkle, the Fairfield Union senior and both Southeast District and Region 7 champion, placed third in 15:36 —as the seventh-man Minard (16:01) was the Southeast District and Region 7 runner-up.
Putnam was the first man behind both of them —in both of those OHSAA postseason races prior to the state.
Nash Minor (15:56.1) and Michael Nichols (15:57.2) finished fourth and fifth, and hailed from Marlington —while West Geauga’s Daniel Kearns (15:57.8) was sixth.
Of the top-10 individuals, Agnew, Runkle, Minor, Kearns and Singer are seniors —while Ruthers was the lone sophomore.
Putnam planned for his name to light up higher on the Fortress Obetz scoreboard — even at the top.
He was running well all of October, including setting his personal record 15 minutes and 28 seconds at the Unioto Invitational.
“This wasn’t what I was expecting here today at all,” he said. “I thought I had it in me.”
Was weather, especially the extreme wind, a factor?
“Honestly, the weather wasn’t bad, but the wind was. There were some turns I had to take where the wind was in my face. That took a lot of force to get through. But that’s about it,” said Putnam. “I really have no excuse for how I performed here today. I don’t really know what I did wrong.”
The highly-competitive Putnam was then asked about bouncing back, and what his plans were for his senior season —and aim to return for a fourth and final state race.
And, of course, in his eyes — a good race and a better showing.
“Just train harder, run longer. I don’t know what I am missing,” he said. “I was a lot more anxious this past year than the previous two years. It messed me up a lot the first half of this season. It did again today. I am sure my dad (Eric Putnam) will have a few things in stock for me to work with. I’ll just have to go off what he tells me and just do it.”