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They hand out pickles on Heartbreak Hill. But why?

Boston Marathon

When Boston Marathon runners need refreshments, they often turn to Team Hoyt’s aid station to stock up on electrolyte-filled pickle spears and pickle juice shots.

In addition to repairing runner-athletes’ racing chairs when necessary, volunteers at the Team Hoyt aid station also keep Boston Marathon athletes current on pickle juice. Adam and Stephanie Davies/Courtesy photo

As many athletes will tell you, running the Boston Marathon is a pretty big deal. And while the experience is definitely one to savor, some parts of the course can be a little jarring (looking at you, Heartbreak Hill).

So when runners need refreshments after climbing Newton’s hills, they often turn to Team Hoyt’s aid station, where volunteers fuel marathoners with electrolyte-filled pickle spears and shots pickle juice.

It became a mainstay of the Monday marathon, much like the late father-son duo Dick and Rick Hoyt, who completed 32 Boston Marathons with Dick pushing Rick – who suffered from cerebral palsy – in a wheelchair from Hopkinton to Back Bay.

“The riders love the pickle station,” said Diane MacDonald, who once served on the board of directors for Team Hoyt New England. “A lot of regular runners – a lot of people run the Boston Marathon back-to-back and continuously – can’t wait to get to our aid station to get a glass of pickle juice.”

According to MacDonald, who ran the Boston Marathon several times for Team Hoyt and counted Dick and Rick Hoyt among his close family friends, the origins of the aid station date back more than a decade. It all started in 2012, when a few former marathoners from the team gathered at mile 20.6 on Heartbreak Hill.

Pickles arrived later, in 2015.

“And that year, Dick received a letter from a runner thanking him for pickles and pickle juice for the cramps he had experienced during the race,” MacDonald said. The next time, two volunteers decided to embrace the “power of pickles” and dressed up in pickle costumes to cheer on the runners.

At the Team Hoyt aid station on Heartbreak Hill, tired runners can find an electrolyte boost in the pickle spears and pickle juice shots on offer. – Adam and Stephanie Davies/Courtesy photo

“Basically, pickles and pickle juice help runners suffer from cramps, which is very common during long-distance races, especially marathons,” MacDonald explained. “And so at the top of Heartbreak Hill, which is the hardest, I think, of the whole marathon, that’s where we chose to start handing out the pickles and the pickle juice.”

The potential benefits of pickle juice for endurance athletes are well documented. Research has shown that the briny mixture helps combat cramps, perhaps because the acetic acid in the vinegar triggers a reflex and sends a signal to the brain to relax the muscles, such as Women’s running magazine explained.

According to MacDonald, Team Hoyt’s gloved volunteers hand out about 3,800 pickles at the Boston Marathon each year. (And if you don’t like pickles, they also offer more conventional refreshments like water, Gatorade, pretzels, and orange slices.)

Using a megaphone, they take turns announcing the range of snacks and touting some of the benefits of pickles and pickle juice. More than once, Pickle Station volunteers have convinced even the most hesitant marathon runners to give in to their curiosity.

“They turn their noses up at it, like, ‘Really?“, MacDonald said. “And then they’ll drink pickle juice, and in two minutes you’ll feel a difference.”

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