Off The Grid And Then Back On. The Return Of Manny Putz.

* Manny Putz finished 4th overall at the 2022 Roy Griak Invitational, and is the top returner in 2023

Photo Credit: J Hobson/MileSplit

- - - 

In his first two years of high school cross country, Onalaska's Manny Putz took The Badger State by storm, winning 12 races against some of the state's best athletes, many of whom had dozens of more races under their belt.

Simply put, he routinely out-classed the best-of-the-best.

His freshman year ended with a seventh-place finish at the WIAA Division I State Championships, while his sophomore year was a notch better, as he scored his first state title in a blistering 14:50.65 lifetime best. Then, there was his seventh-place finish at the NXR Heartland Regional, which was just two spots shy of qualifying for Nike Cross Nationals. 

The momentum behind Putz was growing by the day. 

Then, over the winter following his historic sophomore campaign, pain became more and more prominent in both of his legs. A trip to the doctor's become inevitable, and then came a season-altering diagnosis.

Achilles Tendinitis. 

It's not an unfamiliar injury in running circles. It's one caused by the the tendon connecting the back of your leg to your heel, becoming swollen, causing varying levels of pain near the bottom of your foot and your lower leg. One of the most frustrating aspects of this diagnosis is that one of the most commonly encouraged forms of treatment is to simply stay off of it and rest.

But for a runner -- especially one as talented as Putz -- that's the last thing anyone wants to hear.  

Since he couldn't continue his training as expected, he had to turn to aqua jogging. His relationship with this method of cross-training initially was a love-hate relationship, he said, though it didn't take long for the love to fizzle out. 

"I started with aqua jogging and I had never done that before. It's just something I don't want to do" he said. "It's just boring and pretty hard to do, and time just goes by really slow".

After coming to terms with that method, he turned to biking, followed by the row machine and then virtually every type of cross-training exercise there was. "You name it, I probably did it," he said.

His chief objective, however, remained the same. He needed to mimic the intensity of running, especially during those harder sessions. In the initial weeks of cross-training, his goal was initially to make it back for indoor. Then, after minimal progression, his sights shifted to outdoor.

Eventually, it reached a point where he had to make the difficult decision to simply accept his injury and choose to stay off of it and wear a boot.

"After all that time of not running, I just had so much energy to put onto that course," Putz said. "I planned to just race and see what happened"

That's what he did. 

It may have looked like he went off the grid. But in reality, Putz was just in physical therapy. The combination of that, combined with rest, saw him finally see signs of progression.

After months of on-and-off pain, he eventually resumed running in July.

Still, he had to be incredibly cautious and make sure he was easing back into his standard training without re-aggravating the tendinitis. Surely but slowly, he was able to successfully get back into training, but the mileage number was severely discounted. 

In August, Putz was up to 30 miles. He was feeling like himself.

Then came his opportunity on August 26. He made his junior debut and planned to race for the first time since November 26, 2022, or 273 days.

Onalaska head coach Darin Shepardson was apprehensive. He knew that it wouldn't take long for his star to get back to where he was, but the mixture of nerves and adrenaline left Putz not 100-percent, nevermind tactics. 

Heading into the race, Putz pulled his coach aside and let him know where his head was at. 

"I'm feeling really anxious right now. Is it fine if I just go all out today?" he said. 

What's a coach supposed to do? Coach Shepardson gave him the 'all-clear.' 

"After all that time of not running, I just had so much energy to put onto that course," Putz said. "I planned to just race and see what happened"

Long story short, the reigning Wisconsin Division I state champion ran the third fastest time of his high school career, winning his first race back in 15:13.70. If that wasn't enough, Putz won again this weekend in 15:19.40.

Now that he's back, the Wisconsin distance star has his eyes on the prize later this year.

First, he wants to defend his 2022 state title against "a pretty tough group of guys."

Next, on the national stage, he wants to qualify for Nike Cross Nationals and end the year in the low 14s.

For an athlete of Putz' caliber, one of the top returners in the county is surely going to be a name to watch. 

Related Links: