Crista Scott of Dirtbag Runners: Happiness Through Flow and Spirituality

This week on the blog, we have another interview from a movement expert: Crista Scott, one of the co-founders of Dirtbag Runners, which is pretty much a one-stop-shop for trail and ultrarunners from around the world. Complete with swag, camps and a fantastic Instagram page, Dirtbag Runners serves the ultra community in a great way.

Crista is also a co-author of “In Search of the Meaning of Happiness through Flow and Spirituality,” which was published in The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society  in 2014. Crista was a fantastic interviewee, and we talked about her journey into movement and ultrarunning, as well as the results of the study and how the everyday athlete can incorporate movement into his or her life.

Huge shoutout to Crista for her time and advice! Be sure to check out Dirtbag Runners online, including their Twitter and Instagram pages for more great ultrarunning info.

If you were at a cocktail party and someone asked “What do you do?” How would you answer them?

I would probably laugh and say, “A lot of different things that individually may not make a lot of sense but do when they are all put together.”

The straight answer to that question would be– I’m a creative. I love making things — everything from writing articles, to designing graphics and websites, to planning events, helping companies “re-brand”, and cultivating online (and in-person!) communities. My general area of expertise is marketing, design, and social media.

Two years ago I graduated with my Master’s Degree in Psychology thinking I would be moving forward to get my Ph.D and become a full-time researcher at a university. Turns out, life had much more interesting plans for me than simply being a researcher.

After a summer of traveling out of my car and exploring the western United States, I realized I had a greater purpose: to start an outdoor company that inspires people to get outside and create meaningful experiences. I wanted to create events (camp & run retreats / races), publish a magazine, and create our own line of trail running clothes (based on our own wants / visions rather than one from a big money making corporation).

What got you interested in this area of research (flow, athletic activity, spirituality)? What were your motivations for initially pursuing this topic?

In college, one of my professors mentioned she was starting an independent research group focused on the topics of positive psychology, flow, and sports. I was fascinated by the different ways that people sought joy and happiness, so I signed up. I ended up spending about eight years through college and graduate school researching and publishing articles on everything from flow, to the benefits on spirituality on well-being, to the impact that long distance running outdoors on one’s well-being.

In graduate school, I became my own research subject — the further I ventured out into nature, the happier I was. I found that the further I could run, the more amazing things I could see and create deep meaningful memories.

You note that “having balance between challenge and skills” contributed to greater happiness in your participants. How do you think this fits into today’s popular notions of grit or mental toughness?

I think for runners, the balance between challenge and skill is what pushes us to go that extra mile. It’s how ultrarunners are born. We become captivated by the feeling of an incredible and challenging run.

It happened in my own life. I was that 5K runner who pushed towards a 10K, then a half. The first time I heard about ultrarunning, I thought, “There is no way I could ever do that.” And then I did.

It’s no secret that the easy runs or races never leave us with the same amount of fire inside as accomplishing a goal that was at one point unattainable. When you tap into that grit, and mental toughness, you grow as a person and an athlete.

You also note that”engaging in a meaningful activity may be more important to finding happiness than the type of activity or level of engagement.” How do you think the average person can find meaning in his or her activities? Is this a conscious decision? Is it unconscious?

It can be both conscious and unconscious. Not everyone realizes that something they do is a passion, and that by doing that activity, they are improving their mental health. Sometimes it’s as small as preparing your meals for the day, or as big as being blessed with a full-time career in your area of passion.

I think the average person can find more meaning in his or her activities by being mindful. Instead of multi-tasking, focus on just one thing. Maybe it’s painting, or writing, or going for a long run in the mountains. The important thing is that you’re present in the moment and not busy scrolling through social media networks on your phone, or ruminating in your mind about something your co-worker said that annoyed you. The simple act of being in the moment, losing your sense of time and awareness of everything except what you’re doing – THAT is what it’s all about. This process is actually shown to reduce stress. It’s catharsis. It’s uplifting.

Was there anything that surprised you about the results of the study?

I was surprised that distance was not a factor in the mental health benefits of running outdoors. It could be an hour or ten hours – simply being outdoors for over an hour proved to be immensely beneficial for all runners, regardless of distance. I thought this was pretty cool, actually. It demonstrates how important even a short run (or hike!) in nature can be.

If one of your close friends admitted to you that he/she was unhappy with his/her life, what would you tell them? Do the findings in this study impact how you would try to help?

I would probably ask them what things in their life have made them excited or happy. I would encourage them to pursue a dream, or a hobby they loved but have put to the side, or to explore new activities. And I would probably also suggest a good hike outdoors, or camping trip in the mountains. The findings from previous research on activities and happiness have demonstrated time and time again that doing things we love help us live happier and more rich lives. In my own research, I tried to demonstrate that being outdoors and physical activity are basic human necessities, and that everyone could benefit from a good trail run.

Have the results of this study impacted the ways in which you conduct your own life?

Absolutely. When I was going through injury, in a lot of ways I felt like I’d never feel that “runners high” again and I wouldn’t enjoy myself until I was back up to the height of my training days. What my research taught me, though, was that even thirty minutes outdoors has it’s benefits. Double that time, and hike, and you’ve got yourself a pretty solid method of “feel good” time. I learned to enjoy moving slow – it certainly has its benefits! I would take more photos, bask in the details of nature that I’d often miss if I was running by.

How do you incorporate movement into your lifestyle? What advice do you have for people looking to incorporate movement into their lifestyles?

I take advantage of movement whenever I can. Sometimes that mean getting up from my desk at work once an hour and walking around, or running during my lunch break, or a nice long walk with my dog after work. I get in most of my mountain time in the early mornings and on weekends. The more often you move – the easier it gets to keep going.

What are you up to these days?

I recently started working at an office interior design firm in Southern California as a marketing director. It’s a ridiculous amount of fun, and such incredible experience to be a part of a successful business while also building my own on my free time. I am still running Dirtbag Runners with my partner and co-founder, Tyler Clemens. We are planning an epic new product to launch in early 2017, and also planning our next Dirtbag Runners Camp & Run. We hope to eventually have an entire line of outdoor gear, a Dirtbag Runners Magazine, and a Camp & Run series across the world. You can find out more about our upcoming events and products at, our social media channels (Instagram & Twitter: @DirtbagRunners) or on our online community group.

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