TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I had the pleasure of talking triathlon with Marc Sosnowski, one of TCSD’s Sponsorship Co-Directors. Marc and I grew up about 10 miles from one another in the suburbs of Chicago, but it took TCSD to introduce us in 2014. It is a small world as in the mid ‘80’s I worked at the Morton Arboretum with Marc’s Dad, John. The apple does not fall far from the tree – both Marc and John are great guys!
Craig: What sports did you do as a kid?
Marc: As a kid, I did a wide variety of sports including soccer, hockey, baseball and football. I went to a smaller sized high school in the western suburbs of Chicago. I ended up playing both ways in football, tight end/receiver on offense and defensive end on defense. In track, I ran the 800m, occasionally the mile and the 2 mile relay. I was speedy enough to run varsity as a freshman. The thought of running longer than ONE MILE was ridiculous to me…why would anyone want to do that?! As a teen I skied…a lot. I also taught lessons and managed a sports and ski shop. I taught my younger sister how to ski and she subsequently won many Special Olympic medals…more medals than I have for sure! All those years of skiing, especially on the moguls, took its toll on my knees. I never thought I’d be running long distances, let alone Ironman triathlons!
Craig: What sports did you do once you were out of school, but before triathlon?
Marc: I started coaching my son and daughter’s soccer teams at the YMCA and a few of the other kids’ fathers were interested in starting a team. For nearly 10 years I played on a men’s arena soccer league on Sunday mornings at Mission Valley YMCA (with a knee brace!). We played year around. During those ten years of play, we won the Sunday morning league championship 2 seasons and placed 2nd a hand full of times. I stayed in that league up until the time I started triathlon training. Eventually doing both was not possible and the young men on my soccer team had matured enough to be able to manage the team themselves.
Craig: What are some of your first triathlon memories?
Marc: When I met my now-wife Melissa in 2012, I was training for my first half marathon. She had done many half marathons and had just joined TCSD to train for her first triathlon. At first I thought she was nuts but eventually my competitive nature took over. My first triathlon was the TCSD beginner triathlon that was held on Coronado Island and it was quite interesting. I went into the race overconfident in the swim due to being a lifeguard during 3 years in high school. I will never forget Steve Tally giving an in depth transition clinic and helping everyone prepare for the event. I had rolled my eyes when Steve had stressed taking it smooth and easy at the beginning of the swim. I KNEW how to swim, DUH! Approximately 25 yards into the swim, I was completely hyperventilating and doing the backstroke to regain my breath. My darling wife Melissa, loves to tell this story to anyone willing to listen.
Craig: What have been some of your favorite triathlon experiences?
Marc: My favorite Ironman experience would have to be Ironman Arizona 2014, where I proposed to my wife at the finish line. Knowing I would be crossing the finish line about 2 hours ahead of her, I had a friend bring me a change of clothes, I got a massage and was ready! My coach, Jim O’Hara, put me into contact with Mike Reilly and we had a script ready to go when Melissa was to cross the finish line. We both had great first time Ironman experiences and cherish the memory of our engagement.
Craig: You have done 3 Ironmans so far – Arizona, Canada and Santa Rosa. What advice would you share with someone contemplating doing their 1st Ironman?
Marc: For anyone considering attempting their first 140.6 Full Ironman, I would strongly recommend building all three disciplines slowly over time. Investing in a coach who is adamant about long runs and bikes both on the same day. Long hard training days will help to guarantee a more enjoyable race day.
Craig: You have also had quite the running career which includes running the Boston, Chicago and New York Marathons. What have been some of your favorite running races?
Marc: My favorite marathon was the New York City Marathon that Melissa and I ran together from start to finish. We took photos every mile for the first half then ran a negative split for the second half which earned us two pairs of New Balance shoes from the New Balance NYC Back Half Challenge of 2016. The NYC Marathon has huge spectator energy and support from start to finish. The year we ran the race it felt like there was live music/bands every mile of the race.
For the last 5 years, I have raced Hood 2 Coast Relay with my coach Jim O’Hara and a mixed Masters Team of guys from San Diego, LA Track Team and Washington. The team name is the Extra Virgins as we were once sponsored by Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The race is a 200 mile relay that starts on Mount Hood, Oregon and ends at the coast at Seaside Oregon some 20 plus hours later of sleepless racing. With 1500 teams and 12 people per team, there are a lot of runners and crazily decorated transportation vans everywhere. Every year it’s a great weekend of hardcore racing with some really funny dudes who lay it all on the line.
Craig: You are also part of a running club. What is the name of that group and what is their focus?
Marc: I have been a member of the Seaside Striders Running Club coached by Jim O’Hara who has been a local running coach for many years. SSRC’s mantra is “Never outrun your joy of running”. Jim has coached me through three Boston Marathons, NYC Marathon, Chicago Marathon and three 140.6 Full Ironman races. Jim was a member of Team USA for Triathlon and has extensive knowledge of all distance running races. Jim is both a great friend as well as a fantastic coach. Fellow members of SSRC are more like extended family members than running partners.
Craig: What athletic accomplishments are you most proud of?
Marc: I race with Prado Racing Men’s Masters Cross Country Team. In 2017 we came in third in the nation at the National Cross Country Championships. In triathlon, I have been able to qualify for the USAT National Championships every year I’ve been in the sport. I don’t always attend, but just being invited is an honor.
Craig: In what ways have you volunteered to help TCSD?
Marc: I started volunteering for TCSD at the beginner triathlons around 2015. That was where I learned about the sport and I thought I could share my experiences as a “newbie” and then, later, as a more seasoned triathlete. I thought I should pay forward the support that I received when I was starting out. I would also randomly help set-up and take-down at various races, nothing in an “official” capacity.
Craig: Why did you want to take more of a leadership role in the club at this time?
Marc: My wife is now entering her 5th year as TCSD Treasurer. Knowing how much work she had done and that she had weathered the ups and downs of various boards over the years, I decided that it was time for me to serve in a more official capacity.
Not only that, but I had been mentored by many of the Club’s long-time members. I ran with Mike Plumb and Chris Costales at Mission Bay; Kevin Fayad taught me how to swim at the JCC—side note: he was also the best man at my wedding; I would ride on the Club rides with Darrell Steele; and I had the fortune to meet Dean Sprague, bike fitter extraordinaire. All of these people made an impression on me and I wanted to serve the Club as they did (and still do!). I was also really excited about the new leadership that took office this fall; I have known AJ Lawson for many years and he was there when I proposed to my wife in Arizona in 2014. I had high hopes and had discussed with him the possibility of volunteering when he took office. So after a few discussions, it was determined that I would be a good fit in Sponsorship.
Craig: What are your goals as TCSD Sponsorship Director and how can other club members help you achieve these goals?
Marc: Sponsorship Director is such a huge role for the Club. Not only do you negotiate on behalf of the Club members, but there is also a lot of follow-up including marketing, contract closing, billing, and planning throughout the year. The Board has decided to have one “main” Sponsorship Director; that would be Danny Arnold. Marsha Connors and I were appointed as “Co-directors” to support Danny. I was a good fit based on my prior retail experience and my personality fit really well with negotiating. I also understood that any partnership had to be mutually beneficial to both the sponsor and TCSD. We have really worked hard this year to give TCSD members great deals and to promise to be better at following up with sponsors to be sure that they are happy.
Craig: Who and what have been the most influential people or experiences in your life?
Marc: My parents have been the most influential people for me growing up. They always supported me in everything I did. This goes for both sets of my grandparents, as well. They attended every sporting event that I participated in. And, of course, my darling wife has been my rock. Her philosophy of always doing the right thing has had a substantial impact on my decision-making. She makes sure to put me in my place when I truly deserve it. I would never have gotten into the sport of triathlon if it wasn’t for her.
Craig: What are your future athletic goals?
Marc: My goal for years has been to run a sub 3-hour marathon in Boston. I’ve done it in St. George, and have been chasing that dream since 2015. Eventually, I’d like to qualify for Kona, someday, sometime.
Craig: Marc, thank you so much for sharing your story. One of my favorite things about you is your never-ending enthusiasm. That is a special gift in today’s world. The club is lucky to have you and Melissa. Thank you both for all you do!
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.