Interview with Mary Maleta Wright, Co-Founder of Arete Women's Running Club
By Eric Senseman
For our third, and final, feature this month, we sat down with Mary of Arete Women’s Running Club. The all-women running team was launched in 2016 to promote camaraderie and community for women in running. Today, there are team chapters throughout the U.S. and internationally, with more than 400 members total. Learn more about Mary, the Arete Women’s Running Club, and more.
Eric: I want to start with you and your history with running. What’s your background, and some of your experiences that led you to co-found a women’s running club.
Mary: Sure. I ran competitively in high school and college. When I was starting my career, and starting a family, my best friend, Melissa–she was in a similar boat–we had both moved to Santa Cruz after college. We just realized, there was no space for women, that we knew of, where they can continue to compete at all different levels. Women who aren’t new to running, but want to continue to compete and continue to get faster. A place that was also fun and light and not too serious. We didn’t see that space so we created one. This was in 2016, we got some of our close friends together who we knew from running and pitched the idea. We said: Hey, what do you think about a running club? Would you join it?[laughs]
Eric:They were into the idea.
Mary:Yeah, and we both knew Jill [Deering] (rabbit co-founder) from growing up in Santa Cruz. Melissa had stayed in touch with Jill. Then Melissa knew Monica through Santa Barbara Running Company. Melissa said: These two women, Jill and Monica, are starting this company, it’s called rabbit. They only have tank tops and shorts out, I think they have orange and blue, and I think we can get them at wholesale price. Then we can make them really cute, and if we make them cute, people will want to join [laughs]. That’s a big piece of the puzzle. When you’re joining a running club, and you’re wearing these generic singlets–so we made these cool designs. Anyway, we got those uniforms and we loved them and that’s how we started–we created this great community in Santa Cruz. We’re all over now, in the Bay area, and chapters all over the country and even internationally.
Eric: The name of the club is Arete [ahr-i-tey]. Why that name, and how does it promote women in running?
Mary: Our mission statement is to empower women to reach their fullest potential, or run their best, in a supportive team environment. We feel like we love co-ed environments, but having a place where women could go and be together and be themselves is a different type of environment. Women can fully open up in a space that’s different from a co-ed environment. We can share different experiences–people are coming from all different backgrounds, all different ages, different chapters of life. We feel like it really provides a space to really explore your potential as an athlete, wherever you are in that chapter of your life.
Eric: Before you started Arete, did you know of any other all-women running clubs?
Mary:A few. We knew about the Impalas, an elite-specific women’s team. There are a lot of women from the Impalas who qualify for the trials–they are that very specific type of team. Then there’s Oiselle. We’re somewhere in between that. You’re not a new runner when you join. You come to our club with experience with running. There’s not specific qualifying times to join. We feel like we capture a group of women who are experienced and want to get better, but aren’t necessarily tied to having to join a team based on times. I guess you could just say that when women join Arete, they are part of a community committed to improving themselves and each other. When you see your teammates out their training, you really want them to get better. There’s a big sense of commitment to racing and community and improvement. But we’re also not hand-holding beginner runners–not in a way that’s unfriendly, but there are so many spaces for beginner runners.
Eric: Speaking more concretely, what does it look like when you’re a part of Arete?
Mary: When someone signs up, they have access to Final Surge and training plans that I write. People can download training plans for various distances or specific races. We have return-to-running, postpartum plans. Some people have their own coaches but that’s a huge perk, the training plans. Then, of course, you get the rabbit racing kit. We have races called all-chapter races, where we meet up throughout the year. We try to have one big meet-up per season. Then we have our local chapters. Santa Barbara will have their own thing going on, so will Washington, D.C. Each chapter has a leader or leaders and they organize their social media and race calendars and meet-ups. So, when you join, you are signing up for the community, number one, and then the rabbit perks and training plans, the race meet-ups, the social components afterwards. You’re joining a community and committing to improving and wanting to be around cool women [laughs].
Eric: I read an article where you were quoted as saying that it’s important for women to feel safe while running, and running in groups can do that.
Mary: I think what’s great about the club–we have a forum where we discuss meet-ups–is that we have a 5am group, women who have to run at 4:30 or 5am, then get their children ready, then go to work. Then we have different meet-up times throughout the day that help women work running into their super busy lives. I feel like there’s a spot and time of day for everyone to run. We don’t have all the time in the world to do extensive drills and warm-ups, but it’s get in, run, hang out with cool people and get on with your day.
Eric: Almost any time of day, there’s an opportunity for women to get out the door with a group.
Mary: Yeah, and I’m speaking only to the Santa Cruz chapter, we have weekend standing 7:30am Saturday runs. But during the weekdays, you’ll find women running at all times of day. And it’s just so much safer with a big group to run at those really early or really late times.
Eric:You had 20 members when you started in 2016. Now you have many chapters. How many people are involved now with Arete?
Mary: By the end of the registration season, we’ve been between 400 and 450 the last few years. That’s kind of where we’re at. We want people who care about the club and want to be a part of it. Once races are fully back, we want to expand and have more cities as well.
Eric:What’s some of the feedback you get from club members, in terms of the impact of the club.
Mary:I think a big thing is women see a huge amount of improvement in their running, for a variety of reasons–probably a combination of having people to train with, or training plans to follow, or being motivated by teammates who are going to be at the same race. Also a huge component is people making really good friends. It’s hard to make friends as an adult sometimes [laughs]. You don’t have your school community anymore, maybe you don't necessarily want to hang out with people at work. People have made really good friends and that’s been really fun to watch.
Eric: Looking forward now, what are your hopes for Arete in the future?
Mary: I think we’d definitely love to expand to different cities. We were doing that as Covid started and then we paused a little bit. We’d love to have more running camps. We’d love to continue to have sponsors and partners who help us fulfill our mission. I guess we’d love to keep doing what we’re doing.
We have people training for races from 5k to the marathon, but since Covid started, we have Arete trail leaders who lead trail runs at different locations. That’s mostly in California and they focus on races and they write training plans for trail runners. We really saw the trail scene blow up during Covid and people have been loving that. We have super experienced trail leaders.
Eric: And where can people sign up?
Mary: Directly through our website.
Eric:Thanks so much for taking the time to chat!