From four-year varsity soccer player at Althoff High in Belleville, to University of Illinois grad, to sports radio producer, to on-air radio personality at ESPN, locally and nationally, Michelle Smallmon has come to realize how lucky she is. She’s using her platform as host and digital content guru at WXOS 101.1FM on her quest to complete 50 half-marathons in 50 states while raising money for local charities. Here’s an update on her progress, professionally and competitively.
How did you get this idea to run 50 half-marathons in 50 states for charity?
A lot of things came together in 2017. Right before I started work at ESPN in Connecticut, one of my high school friends, Mike Kelley, passed away from cancer. I realized how grateful I was to be healthy.
After I moved, I decided to get to know the area by running. I hit my 30th birthday and started thinking about what I love: to travel. I wanted to see all 50 states. Then, one night, I couldn’t sleep and went down a rabbit hole and found an article about people who run in all 50 states. So, that’s one part. Then I thought, “If I’m going to do this because I’m grateful for my health, then I’d love to give back.” So, I decided 50 states, 50 half-marathons, all for charity.
About the same time, some Mike’s friends put together a baseball camp in his name, so I decided to run to raise money for them. My friends shared it on social media, and we raised a couple thousand dollars in 48 hours.
So, where are you in your quest?
I’ve made 19 states. I was supposed to run in New Jersey in April. With COVID-19, I’ll probably wait until everything calms down and I can do the actual races [rather than virtual races], since travel was supposed to be a big part of it.
The fundraising portion, though, took on a life of its own. We raised $4,500 for the camp. After doing 10 races, I decided to devote every segment of 10 races to a different charity. I was finishing up a segment for the Little Bit Foundation.
I also set a goal of finishing at least one of these races in less than two hours. My best time was 2:01 in Indianapolis. It was cold, rainy, and my headphones broke. I always said I didn’t think I could run without music; it helps me keep my cadence. But without music, I was so miserable that I ran as fast I could!
What’s your time frame?
I don’t really have one. I could be 60 years old on state number 40. I’ve been super lucky that I’ve had friends and family with me at every run. But I’m wondering if at race 37 they say to me, “Ah, you can do this one yourself.”
I want to save Missouri for race No. 50, to put a bow on all of this. I want to have a big brunch and invite all the friends and family who have supported me. Then, I never want to run again.
What have you learned about yourself from this so far?
As a producer and broadcaster, I have a perfectionist mindset. But running has taught me that I’ll never win and probably won’t lower my time. So, I want to end each race with the thought that if I don’t improve my best time, that’s fine. I still have 30 chances. It’s been great to learn to enjoy the journey and appreciate the process.
Your career took you from St. Louis to what many consider the pinnacle of sports broadcasting, ESPN’s world headquarters. Now, you’re back in St. Louis. What has that journey taught you?
Pride in St. Louis isn’t something that’s preached to you when you grow up; it’s inherently in you. When I was in Connecticut, though, I saw how others perceived St. Louis. They picture it as dilapidated and that people aren’t proud to be from here. I told them how wrong they were, and they nicknamed me Midwest Michelle.
When I was there, I met other people from St. Louis, and we all had that same sense of pride. I just didn’t recognize it until I moved away. When I came back, I appreciated that the city is a hidden gem. There are so many great things you can do. It’s affordable, there are great sports teams, and a sense of community that you don’t get in other big cities.
Author: Kathleen Nelson is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.