Magic City

Birmingham. Magic City. Early morning. I showed up to Regions Field at 7 a.m. I arrived by Uber.

I called an Uber because I didn’t want to fool with parking downtown. Not on a busy day like today.

Oddly, I have only taken an Uber a few times in my life. I come from people who wouldn’t eat canned vegetables unless they came from Ball jars. Uber would have been a grievous sin.

It was 33 degrees. All I had on were skimpy running shorts and a light jacket. I located the race-day registration and packet pickup booth.

“Name?” the woman said.

“Sean Dietrich,” I said.

She found my name in a ledger.

“Are you the guy who writes those deals on Facebook?” she said.

“No,” I said.

“Oh. Good. Because he really gets on my nerves.”

She gave me a bib with a number on it. I was number 750. I got a T-shirt which read “Magic City Half Marathon and 5K.” I put it on and looked like a dork.

Runners showed up by the hundreds. Regions Field was alive with athletic people completely devoid of body fat.

There were old folks, young folks, and everyone between. Fit people, ultra-fit people. And people like me—Frito Lay enthusiasts.

There were also hundreds of little girls wearing colorful tutus. Some of them were accompanied by fathers who were also wearing tutus.

“What’s with the tutus?” I asked one father.

“Girls On the Run,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“An organization,” he answered, as though reading a cue card. “Girls On the Run focuses on the whole girl. Girls meet in small teams or connect virtually, and well-trained volunteer coaches inspire girls to build confidence and incorporate important life skills by using dynamic, interactive lessons and physical activity.”

Well, okay then.

I was here to run a race today. Me and all five thousand little girls. Along with other serious runners all over Magic City.

I came to the sport of running via the back door. My father was a marathoner. He competed in the Pikes Peak marathon each year.

Ironically, before I was born, he was an ironworker, a heavy drinker, and an aficionado of unfiltered Camels. But he took up distance running when I came along.

He ran the Pikes Peak Marathon each year. Come hell or high water. Pikes Peak is where his ashes are scattered. I am not a true runner. But sometimes I move my legs quickly.

The starting gun fires.

Everyone at the starting line takes off. I meet several exceptional people out there on the route.

I met a woman named Chandra, who started running after her child died in her arms. She is 33.

“I gave birth to him, I named him, I loved him. And he died while I was holding him. He had a bad heart. My husband left me. I had to do something with my grief, so I started running.”

Her child’s name was Andrew.

I met a woman named who has mild cerebral palsy. She is walking the half marathon. In her own words, “I’m doing it because I can, dammit.”

There was a young man who used to play professional baseball. He was a pitcher. He got cut from a famous pro team when his performance began to suffer after his father died.

“My father’s death changed me,” he said. “I just couldn’t do life as usual anymore. I gave up pitching. Now I am in pest control and I love it.”

He took up running to deal with stress. He runs very fast. And he makes me feel about as masculine as Cyndi Lauper.

“What about you?” he asked. “Why are you running today?”

And well, the truth is, I suppose I went running for a lot of reasons. Because last year was a hard year for me. I lost family members. I went to six funerals for close friends. I cried a lot.

And then, just when things couldn’t get any worse, the doctors told me I probably had cancer. They gave me a bleak prognosis.

I went through test after test, and my health started to sort of deteriorate. More from stress than anything. I lost a bunch of weight. I thought I was going to die.

But that didn’t happen. The doctors were wrong. And for some reason, I’m still here.

We moved from Florida to this fine city of Birmingham, because we needed a fresh start. And we got one. My life if so rich and full it hurts.

When I finished the race, there were about 350 little girls at the finish line, dancing and wearing tutus. They high-fived me. And I cried a little.

But I wasn’t alone. There were other people crying as they crossed the line. There were people hugging and telling loved ones how much they loved each other. There were families embracing and smiling.

And I thought to myself about how lucky I am to live in a place called Magic City.

Because it really is.


  1. Debbie g - November 21, 2022 7:05 am

    Happy tears for you and them in magic city 🎈🎈love to all

  2. Laura Lemons - November 21, 2022 7:28 am

    I love your stories Sean. They always speak to me in one way or another. This one is no different. I’m a runner at heart but unfortunately I haven’t ran since I was diagnosed with incurable Ovarian Cancer in 2019. I’ve been doing chemo the better part of 3 years now and I also have a bulging disc in L4/5 – which makes it darn near impossible to walk much less run. In 2018 and 2019 I ran so many 5K’s that I lost count. I would do anything to be able to run again. Thanks for bringing me back to that time in my memory. Laura 🥰

  3. Pubert Earle Bozemann - November 21, 2022 7:50 am

    Yeah Sean! You and Governor Kay Ivey both “High Steppas” now. Proud of your humble husky jean origins to running 12 plus miles. We don’t just bore site- we shoot!

    Your friend,


  4. Steve Winfield (lifer) - November 21, 2022 8:37 am

    Depending on traffic, which is so unpredictable in B’ham, I live about 10 minutes from Regions. Although it often takes an hour. I live 1/4 mile from the hospital I was born in, 4.3 miles from the neighborhood I grew up in.
    When you first said you were moving here I felt sorry for you but now I really enjoy you writing about things I’m familiar with. I’m glad it’s working out for you. I hope your dogs are just as happy.
    I know you miss the ocean but there’s plenty of good fishing near B’ham. Nothing compares to grouper but crappie & catfish are mighty good eating. Of course, I’d probably eat a pine cone if it was properly breaded & fried.
    God bless you both. The dogs too.
    Lifer Steve.

  5. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - November 21, 2022 11:43 am

    I am thankful that you don’t have cancer. You mean a lot to me and all your other readers. I’m not a runner but, I love walking my dog. Alabama has good outdoor weather most of the year. I am glad you are here too’

  6. Peggy - November 21, 2022 12:04 pm

    GOD !!! Well you did it again,,chills ,,tears,, AND this is why all us FANS LOVE SEAN OF THE SOUTH!! .💖💖💖💖

  7. mccutchen52 - November 21, 2022 12:25 pm

    I used to run but now I just read about races or running. It was always good to get fresh air way down deep in your lungs.

  8. Cheryl Thompson - November 21, 2022 12:49 pm

    I can’t tell you how many times I have shared your blog with friends. And I have all your books. You are a bright spot in my morning every day.

  9. Belinda - November 21, 2022 12:50 pm

    I always fell happy and my heart strings get tugged when I read your stories. Glad you are YOU and write your stories to us.

  10. Barbara - November 21, 2022 12:52 pm

    Keep on fighting the fight, you are number one in my books

  11. Trudy - November 21, 2022 1:09 pm

    Gosh, Sean, I had no idea you are runner. I figured you did the 5K but was really impressed when I found you in the results of the 1/2. Your 1:53 was impressive. I’ve been running longer than you’ve been alive but have only run one 1/2. I was really impressed that your father did Pike’s Peak. I’ve hiked it and it’s tough. Running up and back down is something else. I’m in awe.
    Glad you’re healthy and running. Run Sean Run.

  12. ocasey - November 21, 2022 1:19 pm

    Finding out a little more about who you are.

  13. Joy Jacobs - November 21, 2022 1:28 pm

    Congratulations. My dad and I used to run together when my parents lived in Birmingham. I gave up running when I discovered I walked and ran at the same pace. 😅. I still walk 3-4 miles per day weather permitting which in St. Louis gives me a pretty long stretch of inactivity. I’ll be 71 next month. After a recent pre eye surgery EKG my doctor told me my heart would have looked the same at age 17. Simply walking or jogging will keep you healthy.

  14. Shaw Gookin - November 21, 2022 1:36 pm

    Congrats on running the race!

    And for running your race so well…

  15. Anne Arthur - November 21, 2022 1:44 pm

    Wow. Yeah. You did have a hard year. I am most happy that God keeps you fit and kicking to enjoy life, and write about it.
    Kudos to your half-marathon. Great job. Keep running, keep writing.

  16. Cindy - November 21, 2022 1:53 pm

    So thankful the doctor was wrong! Where can I get some of that weight-loss stress you mentioned? I seem to only find the weight-gain stress 🤔

  17. WayneGina Yount - November 21, 2022 2:10 pm

    God bless you Sean! ❤️🙏❤️

  18. Patricia Gibson - November 21, 2022 2:20 pm

    I have always liked Birmingham!!

  19. Ginger McPherson - November 21, 2022 2:39 pm

    I feel so blessed to have grown up in the Magic City. The people are magical too. Friendly, caring Southern folks. I’m so glad you have found the Magic too!

  20. David - November 21, 2022 2:56 pm

    Sean, your blog is always the highlight of my day!

  21. Lori - November 21, 2022 3:08 pm

    Incredible! Love your story telling. I live the magic city too.

  22. Melanie - November 21, 2022 3:51 pm

    Dang, Sean, I’m afraid I just can’t I see that image of the skimpy running shorts. Can I send you some sweatpants? 😉

  23. Dee Thompson - November 21, 2022 3:56 pm

    I have been reading you for a while now, and I knew your mother in law had passed away recently but I didn’t realize you had endured all the other issues before moving to Birmingham. Sometimes life just seems to pile misery upon misery and all we can do is endure and pray until it gets better. I am so glad things are looking up for you. I can’t remember who said this but I think of it often: When you’re going through Hell, keep going! [or keep writing, as the case may be]

  24. Stacey Wallace - November 21, 2022 4:00 pm

    Sean, I am so proud of you for running your race and that you are now an official Alabamian. Like you, this year has been the worst of my 59. My heart died when I lost my sweet Mama. I also lost a dear friend, an uncle, and my favorite minister. And my husband and I got Covid. However, God is holding me by my right hand, just as He is holding you. So everything will be okay. Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.

  25. Sandra Caudle - November 21, 2022 5:17 pm

    So Proud of you. My Daughter took up running about 4 years ago and she is going to run the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham for her 37th birthday Feb 12th. It will be here first Marathon. She has done many 1/2’s. We are going to come to Bham and celebrate with her.

  26. pattymack43 - November 21, 2022 7:28 pm

    Congrats on running the race!! I’m not a runner; it’s simply not in my genes. Yet, I truly admire all of you who do run!! Thanks for sharing the “magic”! Blessings!!

  27. Cindy - November 21, 2022 9:10 pm

    Congratulations on your race Sean!
    I was a runner for most of my adult life and it’s the thing I miss most in this aging journey. The knees just couldn’t handle the long runs and races anymore. Walking now but it’s just not the same. Running was my stress release and, if alone, good prayer and reflecting time. Races were always easier and more fun than the training.
    Glad Birmingham has been a good move for the both of you. Enjoy life and keep on running!🙌

  28. Leigh Langdon - November 21, 2022 10:16 pm

    This is a beautiful post! I ran the Mercedes Marathon fun run with my then 6 year old James. He had trained so hard and worked so hard. Unfortunately, as is my life path (and Becca’s), God set forth a challenge-a week long hospital stint, the week prior to the race. No bother though, I couldn’t let my precious boy down, who has spent more time sleeping in hospitals than sleeping at relatives homes 🙂 . One day out of the clink as I lovingly refer to hospitals, I ran (skipped, hopped) and was moved by The Spirit and cheering of EMT’s and military! Ha! James waited on me, so we were last to cross the finish line, but we crossed! I wish I could attach a picture of that precious baby’s face! He is 17 now and I can barely walk. BUT, I have many, many blessings and I found one in your podcasts! They make me so happy and lift me up when I am sick. I found you by reading your books! I know Moab well bc I grew up in Mobile and was a spirited and rambling girl. Thank you for your fun podcasts, the letters you read and all the fun you add to so many ppl’s lives. I’m about to have to be admitted again and I’ll be listening, God Bless and please do a show in Birmingham so I can come!

  29. brucehrogers1 - November 22, 2022 12:16 am

    Thank you Sean. Truth of the matter is, I don’t know too many people that just take up running 5K, 10K, 1/2 M, or marathons just for the joy of it. I started running when I stopped drinking. I linked up with two of the greatest guys I have ever met that were in a 12-Step program with me and they said, “come on, run with us; we are training for a marathon”. I said, You’ve got to be kidding but I did it and fell in love with it. When I ran, I forgot about the negative and focused on the beauty of what was around me; it was an antidote for me and I loved it. I had back surgery about 5 years ago and haven’t been able to run since, but I found a new beginning with God and now I focus on helping others, getting closer to my family, and my dogs. I walk and work out to relieve stress and enjoy the outdoors. Life is good! God is good! And running is the best! Ten marathons, dozens of half’s, and I have no idea how many 10K’s, and 5K’s. But I will tell you this; there is nothing better than getting close to God and helping others. Thank you for the message.

  30. Nancy Warnix - November 22, 2022 1:39 am

    That was a good read.

  31. Cheryl - November 22, 2022 8:06 pm

    You are in one of the best cities in our country. And there is no better hospital than UAB. I am a stage 3 cancer survivor thanks to UAB. I know nothing of your faith, but we have many, many beautiful churches also who will support you during your times of crisis and bring you much joy during times of celebration. Blessings to you this season.


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