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  • Jen Bloss

Race Review: Woodside Ramble 50k

Challenging, but at least you're distracted by a beautiful day in the woods!

secluded forest trail with trees
Heaven in the forest

Woodside Ramble Vital Statistics:

Location: Woodside, CA (just outside of San Francisco)

Race Distances: 50, 35k, Half Marathon, 10k

Elevation gain: 5,100ft

Environment: Heavily wooded forest of redwoods and evergreens, lots of single track

Weather: Low 40s to start, high 50s-60 to finish. Perfect running weather.

Summary: Relaxed, well organized event. Beautiful scenery, uncrowded for the majority of the race. Well-stocked aid stations and friendly volunteers. But HILLs! Including one section of about 8 miles of continuous uphill. Overall, a challenging race in a beautiful place.

Swag: Women’s cut (or unisex) non-technical t-shirt, pint glass, and medal!

Would I Recommend: Absolutely!

Why this race?

If you're anything like me, then running through a forest sounds like the stuff dreams are made of. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I spent a lot of my childhood playing in the woods, and the forest is probably what I miss the most now that I live in San Diego. And one day, the Woodside Ramble caught my eye on UltraSignup. An ultramarathon through a redwood forest sounded exactly up my alley! And December is in the middle of what I consider to be the best running season (at least in Southern California), for both weather-related reasons and for burning off Christmas goodies eaten en masse. I hadn't been running far in quite a few years, but this time everything fell into place. My long runs magically started to click, I had no other obligations, and I found a killer deal on airfare. So I registered! It was happening!

The Woodside Ramble is put on by Inside Trail, and runs through Huddart County Park and Wunderlich County Park, which are only about a 30 minute drive from the San Francisco airport. This year's race was December 16, 2023. Nearly the entire trail is a shaded redwood forest, which makes for soft landings and eliminates any concerns of sunburn. While the setting is idyllic, the elevation profile is no joke- my watch clocked 5,100 feet of elevation gain over the 31 miles. I'm very thankful for my training, which included lots of seriously steep and hilly terrain.

Race morning: logistics

Race morning was pretty characteristic of smaller trail races- chill! I arrived to Huddart Country park a few minutes after the parking lot opened, and easily found somewhere to park the giant rental minivan I had. Originally I thought that an 8am start time was way too late, but it was chilly outside (about 40), and the weather was only predicted to reach 60 degrees as the high. So as there were no concerns about afternoon heat, I ended up being very thankful to be able to get a full night of sleep and have a leisurely morning before a race. Packet pickup was quick and simple near the start line, and as an out-of-towner, I am very thankful that this race did not require packet pickup in advance. Then, there were real bathrooms with soap and water near the start line- always a treat at a race! I went back to the car to chill until closer to the start time. About ten minutes before the start I left the warm cocoon of the car and headed towards the starting corral, casually picking a spot in the crowd. After a bunch of announcements that no one could hear, feet began to move and we were off!

runner girl with running pack on standing at start line of a race
A very casual start line

The race begins: hills!

Each race distance had ribbon markings to follow in a pattern; purple, yellow, orange, etc. The first part of the race was crowded, because all distances followed it, and it was single track. This would be frustrating if you were behind people who were much slower than you, because it would be extremely difficult to pass. Choose your spot in the corral wisely. As I was just hoping for a finish that day, I wasn't too antsy to maneuver around people, and figured that it would be better to start off slow anyways. I was so excited from the moment we stepped into the woods- it was so pretty! Tall trees, everything was so green, there were creeks and moss and singing birds everywhere! But, soon the climbing started. And it didn't stop for about.... eight miles. There were a few dips here and there, but generally it was an 8ish mile uphill jaunt before getting much reprieve. I usually like to walk the hills in an ultra, but I knew I'd never make the time cutoff of 8 hours if I did that in this race. So I pushed myself, alternating running and hiking as best as I could, trying to stretch my running segments as long as possible. 

runners running through the forest

Aid station goodness and a pace group forms

The first aid station was at mile 6.4, and it felt like forever to get there. It was well stocked with PB&J, snacks, oranges, Pringles, gels, M&Ms, Skratch, and lots of other good stuff. And most important- some extremely enthusiastic volunteers! M&Ms and oranges revived me a bit, and I set off again into the woods.

And then after mile 9, there was a good chunk of downhill/ rolling hills, all single track. I somehow ended up in the front of a line of maybe 5 other runners, and I was clipping along at a good pace. I knew that if I slowed for even a second, I would get passed/trampled by the entire line of them. So I kept pushing myself in order to keep the pace. By mile 10, I was fantasizing about dropping down to the 35k distance, because my legs were already hurting from the long continuous uphill early in the race. But when this group I was in front of got to the aid station at mile 11.8, the guys behind me thanked me for "pacing" everyone and there was a sense of camaraderie- it energized me enough to keep going! I had been worried that they all had wanted to pass me, but it turns out they were just trying to keep going themselves and were using me as an unofficial pacer!

A long lollipop of hills

After the second aid station, a 7 mile lollipop section began with a steep two mile plunge deep into the woods. Knowing that I’d have to come back up this section, I was less than thrilled with the descent. Thankfully it flattened out after 2 miles, and then there were a few miles of gentle rolling before heading back up the mountain. This is where I did some chatting with fellow runners; everyone seemed to be feeling the hills at this point in the race, and lots of walking was being done by most. Finally I arrived back at that same (second) aid station again, and this was a long pause. I was tired and everything was starting to hurt. But I knew that I’d have a lot of downhill on the way back, for which I was very thankful! And so I headed out from that aid station, just focusing on the next 5 miles until the next aid station.

wooded trail with a runner

Alone in the woods and going nowhere

But this is where I started to really struggle- it turns out that when you’re in the woods, everything looks the same! You can’t tell if you’re making progress, and each turn (although beautiful) brings you into another section that looks the same. It’s definitely a mind game, because you cant tell where the end is. Also in this section, I ran the vast majority of it with no other runners in sight. That was tough for me mentally too; sometimes you just need someone off in the distance or on your tail to keep you going. I also noticed that by about 2pm, it started getting a bit dark in the woods. The dense tree cover really filters the sunlight, and I started to wonder if perhaps I should have tossed a headlamp in my pack!


But eventually I made it to the last aid station at mile 24.2. At this point, my legs were trashed and I took a very long break here, chugging so much water and downing some Pringles to bring me back to life. The Pringles were so good that they may make it into my pack for next time! At this point I knew I would finish, and well before the time cutoff, so I felt a bit more relaxed heading off for the last 7 miles.

quiet shaded woods with a trail
Solitude on the trails

The end is near

The last section, while very much downhill, was very ouch-inducing. I was able to go decently fast, but as it was late in the race, each footfall felt rather jolting through my whole body. It felt like I was just plodding down the trail at this point. 

And finally, the last stretch of the race appeared! However, instead of going towards the finish line that we could almost see, we had to do another 1.8 mile out and back section. I felt very defeated upon realizing this, especially since it was another steep downhill that I knew would turn into a steep uphill. When heading back up, I didn’t even try to run- and neither did the other runners with me. We were all feeling the day’s elevation gain and loss, and seemed to all agree that a steep uphill at mile 30 was an automatic walking section- particularly because we missed the chance to finish sub 7 hours. And finally, at the top of the hill, we began to run again. We took a short turn towards the finish, emerged out of the woods for the first time all day, and made it across the finish line!

girl runner after a race holding medal
Finish line smiles!


I was so excited to have fought through all of the defeating thoughts and aching body parts that desperately wanted to give up many times throughout the race. Definitely a testament to prayer, perseverance, and the strength of God. After getting my medal, I collected my finisher’s pint glass and t-shirt. They had burritos in to-go bags, and a variety of snacks for the taking as well. My official finishing time was 7h14 mins, and I was extremely happy with that! For such a tough race, and for not having run any race in 2.5 years, this definitely felt like an achievement!

And the best part was, I asked a random guy to take my photo afterwards. He looked at me and said, “oh hey! You were amazing out there!” I was confused, but he explained- it turns out that he was one of the guys in that I was unofficially pacing for a few miles before the second aid station! I love it- ultras are so friendly!

girl holding a race medal and smiling
Seriously salty and sweaty

Woodside Ramble 50k: two thumbs up

In conclusion, I would 100% recommend the Woodside Ramble 50k! It was a great race, well organized, friendly volunteers, and just so beautiful! But definitely train for the hills, both uphill and downhill, because they are brutal!

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