PORTSMOUTH — Truth be told, as Eric Putnam admits, it’s not exactly easy living up to the “Putnam” surname.
But young Charlie Putnam, the freshman at Portsmouth High School, is —so far —off to a fast start in his attempt.
A month into his first of four cross country campaigns, Putnam has already captured two significant annual individual races —including the Ohio Valley Conference championship on Aug. 29.
He has also finished fifth in both the annual Northwest Invitational three weeks back and the Minford Invitational only a week ago.
After a successful junior high running career in which he finished fourth at last season’s state meet, and already the son of the standout state runner-up and nationally-recognized Shawnee State University cross country coach, Putnam is aiming to make his own mark among the family legacy.
In fact, he is already defending the family name — only a handful of races into his high school career.
That’s because, in case you didn’t know, running can be quite competitive.
“We’ve had a lot of fun running, but people do want to beat us. I’ll just be honest. They will walk up to us and if they get a little bit of a head, they will remind us that they beat us,” reflected Eric. “From his first race, people are like ‘I have to beat (Charlie) Putnam’, before he even really accomplishes anything.”
Young Charlie will just have to get used to that.
“I hate that part,” he said, with a laugh. “These first few races have been just so competitive over me.”
However, very few have defeated — or will defeat — Charlie, provided he stays fit and healthy.
“Running is my favorite hobby. It’s the thing I am good at. I’ve been practicing for quite a while. I’ve been building up my running strength up until now where I am able to run with seniors. Been trying real hard,” he said, in a recent interview with the father-and-son duo. ““Whenever I know there is a race that is going to happen, I just run it and try my hardest. I do my best when I run in races. I’ve been practicing for so long, so I know what the pain feels like. I grew up with these hills and basically every single road that is good for running, I’ve probably already ran on. And especially with the wind blowing right at you when you are running forward, it’s hard. But I think that’s how I got some of my strength and how I manage to push myself when I am running. I know how painful it is. It kind of sucks, but I gotta do it.”
Charlie explained that his practice regimen, almost every single solitary day, includes running four or five miles.
He also doesn’t appear to be done physically growing, as Eric explained that he has gotten four or five inches taller —and has a bigger foot.
Charlie’s first races were actually some of his father’s 5Ks and runs with SSU student-athletes, as Eric literally ran races pushing Charlie alongside in a baby stroller.
The younger Putnam perhaps had an ability to play baseball, provided “had things broken differently”, but — as Charlie admitted in turning towards his father —“I love following in your footsteps”.
Thus, running is a year-round activity —whenever, wherever and however.
“He has never really been anonymous. He has always been around it (running). I’ve always made this joke that Charlie in the end would either be super into it and great, or by the time it became his turn would be just over it and tired of it. As he has ran and trained, he’s just gotten better. Right or wrong, he has been around that approach to the sport where if you are sick you run, if it’s Sunday you run, if it’s Christmas day you run, if you’re on vacation you run. He has grown up with that expectation that you just run, rain or shine,” said the elder Putnam. “If I could show you a chart of his training since the first of June, it’s just uncanny. He has never missed anything and just consistently runs all year long.”
Eric Putnam competed at Chillicothe High School — and was the Division I state runner-up as an individual in 1989.
In addition to coaching the Bears men and women, the 47-year-old father is assisting Joe Albrecht with the PHS program —and expressed his desire to build those running programs up.
He said the city of Portsmouth is a “phenomenal place to run”.
“Shawnee’s running program would have never gotten to where it is if Portsmouth was not a great training place,” Eric explained. “The floodwall alone is all soft grass two miles, you just can’t beat that. That’s not counting the hills and all the streets you can run where you barely encounter any traffic.”
Charlie said he doesn’t mind his father being right there as a coach, and actually prefers it.
“It feels pretty good, honestly. There are a lot of advantages to having a father for a cross country coach. Without him, I never would have got to where I am today. I would have played some other sport besides cross country and running track. I love cross country and track more than any other sport than I’ve ever played in my life. It’s going to stay with me until the end college, at least that’s what I am hoping for. Having a dad as a coach, he knows what’s good for me and what’s not good for me,” he said. “I usually just follow him in his footsteps until I win or if I don’t win in these races.”
Charlie said one of his goals is to qualify four times for the state cross country meet, and this season to realistically place as one of the top five Division II freshmen.
This season’s state meet is set for Saturday, Nov. 7 — at Fortress Obetz on the outskirts of Columbus.
Although there is undoubtedly inevitable pressure with the “Putnam”surname, Eric said Charlie has done a good job of not “paying attention to the legacy of the family”.
Because, running should still be fun.
“I want Charlie to enjoy it as much as he can. I know that sounds cliche’, but I always had this feeling about college and high school running that 80-percent of the time it needs to be fun. There’s those days where it’s just not working for you like anything else, and you just show up and punch in the clock and just drag through it. You hate losing more than you hate those days where it feels like a chore. It’s important for me that’s it fun for him,” said Eric. “I don’t want to be that dad that’s the annoying guy at the race and knows maybe more about it than most of the other parents. You want to blend in too and just enjoy your kid running and be excited that he has found success.”
And so far, Charlie is off and running doing exactly that.
“They (others runners) will see him run a strideout at the starting line before the race,” said Eric. “He just looks like a runner and an athlete, and I’m sure that can intimidate people when you see a 14-year-old kid already so far along.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved