Boston Marathon: How to Prepare Your Mind & Body for 26.2 Miles of Hearing “Shipping Up to Boston”

The storied Boston Marathon course is notoriously challenging: Heartbreak Hill, unpredictable weather and–of course–hours of listening to “Shipping Up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys

Boston Marathon: How to Prepare Your Mind & Body for 26.2 Miles of Hearing “Shipping Up to Boston”
Photo by todd kent / Unsplash

The storied Boston Marathon course is notoriously challenging: Heartbreak Hill, unpredictable weather and–of course–hours of listening to “Shipping Up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys

Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash

Today is Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts, which marks the annual running of the Boston Marathon. As the world’s oldest annual marathon and one of the most elite, running Boston is a dream for recreational runners all over the world.

In some ways, preparing to run the Boston Marathon is a lot like training for any other marathon. But the Boston Marathon also contains some unique challenges. The notoriously unpredictable spring weather can ruin your race. The largely downhill first half can lure you into starting out too fast and flaming out on the Newton hills. And the never-ending crowds of spectators blasting the Dropkick Murphys hit “Shipping Up to Boston” presents a challenge unique to the Boston course.

If you’re looking to conquer the Boston Marathon course, you’ll need to prepare your body and your mind for these unique challenges. Let’s see how it’s done!

The Training Plan: 12–16 Weeks Before Race Day

To prepare for the Boston Marathon: you’ll follow a plan which builds mileage gradually, typically over 12 to 16 weeks, with a long run each weekend. Though most marathon training plans don’t specifically prepare you for the aural onslaught of banjo & accordion you’ll face on race day, it’s easy to work it in to your training.

Just as your weekly long run gradually ramps up to 20 miles, you should slowly acclimate your mind to longer and longer sessions of hearing the Murphys signature tune, whose confusing lyrics are surprisingly written by legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie.

Photo from Hellcat Records.

Similarly, most marathon training plans call for higher intensity workouts like tempo runs or speedwork. You should train your mind in the same way. At least once a week, listen to the toe-tapping, head-banging, heart-pumping track loud enough to capture the feeling of a being 4 Sam Adams deep in a bar in Southie on a Tuesday night in 2007 watching Jonathan Papelbon blow a 3–2 lead for the Red Sox on TV.

While dedicated speed-work and song-work sessions are important, the two are not entirely separate endeavors. Instead, try to include some workouts which combine the two. For example, you can try to incorporate some mental imagery into your speedwork, like picturing yourself running away from the Dropkick Murphys as they chase you with their instruments.

The Taper: 2–3 Weeks Before Race Day

Marathon training plans typically build mileage until about 2 or 3 weeks before the race. This is when the taper begins. The taper is a reduction in mileage letting your body rest & recover leading up to the big day. Likewise, you’ll want to reduce your overall playtime of the iconic theme song of the Martin Scorsese masterpiece The Departed.

Surprisingly though, tapering does not mean backing off of intensity altogether. While you reduce the overall mileage, most plans include a small amount of mileage at race or tempo pace to keep you sharp. The same principle applies to your Dropkick Murphys intake. Reduce the number of listens, but maintain the intensity: play the song at least as loud as your friend Jonny McGlynn from Medford shouts at the TV about how bad the Pats offense sucked last season.

In the final days before the race, you’ll turn your focus to nutrition. Science shows that in the final days before the race, carboloading with increased carbohydrate intake can dramatically improve race performance by storing up extra glycogen used for energy on race day. The same principle applies to melody-loading, where an increased intake of other kinds of music can be used to buffer your mind against Dropkick Murphy induced fatigue (DMIF).

Early music loading protocols involved a weeklong music deprivation phase followed by several intense days of music listening, but modern research shows simple protocols are just as effective. To properly melody-load, try to listen to 4–6 hours of other music the day before the race. Avoid similar Celtic Punk style music (the Pogues are not recommended) and focus on songs you might hear at another marathon, like the Rocky theme song or literally any other song ever written.

Race Day Strategies

Running a marathon is a feat of both physical and mental endurance, but when it comes to the Boston Marathon, there’s an extra layer of mental fortitude required to endure hours of smash hit “Shipping Up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys. To tackle this challenge, runners sometimes use two seemingly contradictory approaches: mental association and dissociation.

Association involves focusing your mind on your body and your surroundings, essentially being in the moment and experiencing the run as it happens. This means paying careful attention to each breath, each footstep, each banjo pluck, each head-nodding beat of the soaring, gravelly vocal crescendo.

Dissociation, on the other hand, involves taking your mind off the physical demands of the race by focusing on anything other than “Shipping Up to Boston.” This might mean tuning out the sounds around distracting yourself by humming a tune such as “Dirty Water” by the Standells, “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond or any song at all by Jonathan Richman.

So, which strategy is best for the Boston Marathon? The answer is: it depends. Both association and dissociation can be effective, depending on your individual preferences and the specific demands of the course. In fact, don’t be afraid to use both. The marathon is sometimes described as a 20 mile warm up with a 10k race, so don’t be afraid to bask in the fist pumping glory of Dropkick Murphys in the final miles of the race.

Finally, race day nutrition is critical. Once again, however, preparing for Boston is a little bit different. You’ll need to consume foods that give you the strength to endure both the physical demands of running a marathon and the emotional strain of hearing accordion and banjo for hours on end. I recommend taking an energy gel infused with Irish whiskey at miles 8, 14 and 20.

Post Race and Beyond

Once you cross the finish line, you might find yourself thinking you’ll never want to run another marathon or hear another pumping banjo & accordion-based punk rock song again. Don’t worry, this feeling will pass!

Your body and mind just need some time to recover. Take some time to enjoy your accomplishment, and ease back into your training. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to go Shipping Up to Boston again.

Jonathan is an avid runner who is running Boston today, and who has run the Boston Marathon every year since 2014 except for 2022 because he’s a moron and literally forgot to register.