26.2 Songs (OK, 27) for the Boston Marathon

by Jeff Burtka

The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest marathon, and marathon runners from around the world aspire to run it at least once so they can honor its history.

Despite its global appeal, the Boston Marathon belongs to the people of Massachusetts, and the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to the finish line on Bolyston Street feature some of the best crowd support runners could ask for.

After I received my acceptance to run in the 2019 Boston Marathon, I immediately put together a playlist of songs about Massachusetts or by artists from Massachusetts as an homage to the locals who will be lining the streets to cheer on me and thousands of other runners on April 15. 

Here are 27 songs (one for each mile, plus the 0.2 miles at the end) for my fellow runners and the people of Massachusetts! [A link to the full playlist on Spotify is at the end of this post.]

Start to Mile 1: Dream On – Aerosmith

Aerosmith, one of the most popular rock bands of all time, was formed in Boston. This stirring version of their classic hit is dedicated to the victims and survivors of the 2013 bombing. Although the bombing happened at the finish, this song belongs at the start, where runners dream of winning, setting a personal record, or just finishing. In the first mile, the course drops 130 feet, so be smart with your pacing so that your dreams of glory do not fade.

Mile 1 to Mile 2: Roadrunner – The Modern Lovers

This song is the unofficial rock song of Massachusetts. (There actually have been attempts to make it the official rock song of Massachusetts.) It’s a raw and catchy love song to the state, and I fell in love with it the first time I heard it. The course flattens out a little bit in this second mile, so just think about being a road runner and hitting your pace.

Mile 2 to Mile 3: Don’t Run Wild – The Del Fuegos

The Del Fuegos formed in Boston in 1980, and this song is the opening track on their album Boston, Mass. Don’t Run Wild is a great reminder not to go out too fast early in the marathon, when there is a huge elevation drop.

Mile 3 to Mile 4: Some Jingle Jangle Morning – Mary Lou Lord

A friend recently introduced me to this upbeat tune by Mary Lou Lord. Mary Lou Lord was born in Salem and spent her early career singing at T stations around Boston.

Mile 4 to Mile 5: Freeze-Frame – The J. Geils Band

As a kid in the Detroit suburbs, I heard the J. Geils Band a lot because they were immensely popular in Detroit, so much so that they considered Detroit to be their second home. But Boston was their first home.

Mile 5 to Mile 6: Strange Powers – The Magnetic Fields

The Magnetic Fields got their start in Boston in the early 90s. Most of their songs that I like are a little slower than Strange Powers, but I figure anyone who runs marathons has strange powers … or is at least a little strange.

Mile 6 to Mile 7: My Best Friend’s Girl – The Cars

The Cars formed in Boston in the 1970s and were a huge act in the 70s and 80s. I’ve always loved this song, and the opening guitar’s rhythm is great for running.

Mile 7 to Mile 8: Academy Fight Song – Mission of Burma

This post-punk band formed in Boston in 1979. This up-tempo song is great for focusing on a quick cadence.

Mile 8 to Mile 9: Till My Head Falls Off – They Might Be Giants

Although formed in New York, two of the founding members of They Might Be Giants are from Massachusetts. This song is another great up-tempo song.

Mile 9 to Mile 10: Here Comes Your Man – Pixies

Three of the four original members of the Pixies are from Massachusetts, and the band formed in Boston in 1986. The simple guitar riff throughout the song is catchy, but it’s also mellow enough if you need to compose yourself and get into a flow during your run.

Mile 10 to Mile 11: Government Center – The Modern Lovers

In this mile, you’ll run past the town of Natick’s municipal buildings, so it’s a good time for Government Center by the Modern Lovers.

Mile 11 to Mile 12: Poison – Bell Biv DeVoe

Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky & Mike, minus Bobby. This New Edition spinoff was an early 90s sensation from Boston. Poison was their biggest hit, reaching #5 on the Billboard charts (#1 on the R&B charts).

Mile 12 to Mile 13: Into Your Arms – The Lemonheads

The women of the Wellseley Scream Tunnel greet runners with a deafening roar, funny and inspirational signs, high-fives, hugs, and kisses to reinvigorate weary runners. Boston legends, the Lemonheads, sing, ”I know a place that's safe and warm from the crowd. Into your arms. Into your arms. I can go.” Can’t think of a better song for the Scream Tunnel.

Mile 13 to Mile 14: Good Vibrations – Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch

The halfway point is here! Time for some good vibrations from Boston’s Mark Wahlberg and his funky bunch!

Mile 14 to Mile 15: The Stroke – Billy Squier

This mile is still within the town limits of Wellesley, so why not celebrate with a Wellesley native’s classic rock anthem!

Mile 15 to Mile 16: I’m Shipping Up to Boston – Dropkick Murphys

This song is kind of big deal in Boston, and it’s featured in the movie The Departed. Some people say this mile is when the race really starts, so it seems like a good time to remind yourself that you’re “shipping up to Boston.”

Mile 16 to Mile 17: Feel the Pain – Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr. formed in Amherst and was one of my favorite alternative rock bands in the 90s. This mile features the notorious Newton Hills, so use this song to remind yourself that you're not the only one feeling the pain of these hills.

Mile 17 to Mile 18: Porchlight – Buffalo Tom

Buffalo Tom’s three members met at UMass-Amherst. I only recently discovered them, but they were kind of big deal in the 90s alternative rock scene. Porchlight is just a great song.

Mile 18 to Mile 19: Hum – The Shelia Divine

When I asked Boston friends for suggestions for this list, one friend introduced me to this song by this Boston band. After a small incline, this mile is mostly flat, so it's a good time to remember to keep humming along.

Mile 19 to Mile 20: Cannonball – The Breeders

The Breeders were formed in Boston by Kim Deal of the Pixies and Tanya Donnelly of Throwing Muses, two bands with strong Boston ties. After Donnelly left the band, Kelley Deal, Kim's twin sister joined, and they recorded Cannonball. Cannonball is a classic alternative rock song from the early 90s that makes a great running song.

Mile 20 to Mile 21: Can’t Give Up – Sebadoh

Here it is. Heartbreak Hill! Good time for a reminder from Massachusetts band Sebadoh that you can’t give up.

Mile 21 to Mile 22: Hangin' Tough – New Kids on the Block

Boston’s New Kids on the Block was the 1980s precursor to the boy bands of the 90s. You’ve survived Heartbreak Hill and are in the last five miles of the race. Keep hangin’ tough!

Mile 22 to Mile 23: Satellite – Guster 

This is the point of the marathon where people aren't lying when they say, "Just a few more miles!" This is a tough mile with a steep decline that punishes already spent quads. Time for a mellow song by this Boston/Medford band to help remind you that you've got this.

Mile 23 to Mile 24: The Impression That I Get – The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Most people might know this ska punk band from the movie Clueless, but they’ve been around long before and long after that 1995 teen movie. This song was their biggest hit, and its lyrics, like the following, seem fitting for marathon runners: “Have you ever had the odds stacked up so high you need a strength most don't possess? Or has it ever come down to do or die? You've got to rise above the rest.”

Mile 24 to Mile 25: Dirty Water – The Standells

In this mile, runners cross into Boston for good. So why not a classic song about Boston by a band that had no ties to Boston? But, as someone with no ties to Boston, I still find myself singing, “Boston, you’re my home,” with Bostonians and non-Bostonians alike.

Mile to 25 to Mile 26: More Than a Feeling – Boston

The band’s name is Boston. They’re from Boston. Of course, they are going to be on this list. Right On Hereford, Left On Boylston! In this last mile, runners take these famous final two turns before the finish. It’s more than a feeling and that you might actually finish this race!

Mile 26 to the Finish (26.2 miles!!!): Sweet Emotion – Aerosmith

As someone who is about to run his first Boston, I can only imagine the emotions that will flow through me as I (hopefully) near the finish line. Knowing that I did my small part running for a cure for DIPG and thinking of all the children who fought and are fighting this horrific brain cancer. Thinking of my wife, kids, family, and friends, and how much support they’ve given me. Remembering how hard I worked to qualify for Boston and realizing how lucky I am to have this opportunity. And just finishing a race that is so full of history. Even if I fail to reach my time goal, I cannot imagine the emotion of finishing my first Boston being anything other than sweet.

[Update: I missed my goal, but the finish was sweet. There's nothing like the last two turns onto Hereford and Boylston.]

Here's the full playlist on Spotify: