Eight Daily Optimizations to Help Busy Runners Stay Healthy

Eight tips for busy runners who want to improve their health, wellness, and running.

By on January 9, 2024 | Comments

Stay the CourseThe calendar turning to a new year offers a time to reflect on the preceding year, while looking forward to the one at our feet.

Of course, it is well known that many new year’s resolutions fall to the wayside quickly, and that’s why we can always resolve to take steps toward health, wellness, and fitness at any time of year.

So, how exactly does an ambitious runner best their improve health, fitness, and performance in a sustainable, lasting way? If we follow the research, effective goal achievement results from the following parameters in goal setting:

  • Goals contain specific details of when, where, and how.
  • Goals are measurable.
  • Goals contain a time frame.
  • Goals are made up of small, achievable steps.
Runner at sunrise

Run healthfully and happily with these eight workday optimizations. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Big wins come from small steps taken consistently. A 100-mile trail race begins — and ends — with a single step. Start small, then don’t stop.

My clinical and coaching clients are high performing people, both in running shoes and in the office. For them — and most of iRunFar’s readers — big goals often require more than the hard work of big miles, workouts, and training races. Fully optimizing health and wellness — especially amongst a highly motivated cohort that is already committed to run mileage, cross training, and orthopedic self-care — often involves optimizing the small things.

These little details, done well or badly, compound each day. As such, as we look to progress, let’s look at a typical busy runner’s day and how we might optimize each part of it — in a small but significant way — to not only run better, but also work more effectively, and be a better and happier person.

Eight Optimizations graphic

Step 1: Pound the Morning Pint — of Water

Chronic dehydration is an insidious but pervasive issue, especially amongst runners who are both older and otherwise sedentary. It is even more challenging in the winter months, and in the U.S. Mountain West or other dry climates. Fascia, the connective tissue surrounding all of our body tissues, gets more difficult to keep hydrated as we age. And dry, winter, or high alpine air also robs moisture from our bodies.

Runners require more hydration, both for performance, and to replace fluid lost during exercise. But it’s a challenge for all runners.

Early morning runners often fail to hydrate enough before or after running, and often fail to top off during the workday. Busy workdays can make mid-day hydration a challenge — meetings and myriad obligations challenge the ability to consume water with sufficient volume and frequency during the day. Evening runners often suffer from a gradual dehydration during the workday, with those after-work runs done on less hydrated, stiffer tissue.

Jump-start your day with a pint of water. Plain water is fine, but consider augmenting with electrolytes. Added salts and minerals might include essentials such as magnesium, that are both crucial for better workday energy, as well as better sleep at night.

Then, have a dedicated post-workout drink that you commit to finishing, before moving on to the rest of your day. Carry a bottle during your workday for ongoing hydration.

Runner with water bottle

Carrying a water bottle is a good idea not only on a run, but throughout your working day. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Step 2: Keep the Coffee, But Curb the Caffeine

Coffee is such a wonderful and beloved morning ritual for most. Its aroma, taste, and warmth is a cherished treat. For some, coffee — and its caffeine — is necessary to be productive. For a few, it’s a requirement to think, talk, and move.

Caffeine is powerful but not without significant tradeoffs. Because of its relatively long half-life (1) of up to 10 hours, even small amounts of caffeine can hamper a good night’s sleep. Personally, I’ve noticed substantial improvements in sleep quality after only a few days of full caffeine fasting.

Sacrilege as it may seem, consider decaffeinating the coffee. Either full or partial decaffeination can preserve the warm ritual, still provide a modest boost, yet preserve quality and quantity of sleep.

Step 3: Move in the Morning

Jump-start your mobility day with a morning routine. Effective goal achievement comes from consistency, not volume. Don’t have time for a morning yoga class? Do a 10-minute routine. Can’t find time for 10 minutes? Do five. Or even one minute of stretching.

Any movement moves and hydrates fascia, making your subsequent run — and the rest of the day — feel smoother and lighter.

Low back pain - upward dog yoga stretch

The upward dog yoga stretch, ideal as part of a morning mobility routine. Photo: iRunFar/Joe Uhan

Step 4: Don’t Disturb Deep Work, But…

Now it’s time to work. Current productivity studies note that the ideal time for productive intellectual work is about three to six hours a day, in blocks of three to four hours of focused work time. Often called deep work, this uninterrupted time for creativity and problem-solving should be preserved.

While many orthopedic professionals suggest that “moving several times an hour” is beneficial for spinal, joint, and myofascial mobility, so many interruptions might result in a longer workday with more sedentary time. With focused deep work, you’re more likely to get your required tasks done faster and better, leaving more time in your day for other activity.

Do your best to preserve those focused work times. Adopt a comfortable work position. Avoid and prevent outside distractions. This may include silencing or storing your smartphone. Then, dig in!

Step 5: Move During Social Media

Until it’s time to move! If you find yourself distracted, either by body stiffness, hunger, or a brain that’s having difficulty focusing, you may find yourself reaching for your phone. Some people pick up their phones hundreds of times per day!

If that’s you — and you can’t fight the urge to check your texts and updates — do so while on the move. Walk, stretch your hips, squat. Do any healthy, functional movement while you’re checking your phone. Pair your phone with healthy (but not-at-your-work-station) activities and two things may happen.

First, you’ll supplement healthy mobility when your work is already interrupted. And second, you’ll be less likely to scroll for prolonged periods at your desk, which can waste work time and prolong periods of inactivity.

Step 6: Punch Out at Lunch

When I began working as a physiotherapist, I was blessed to have a great mentor who also worked out at lunch time. We finished at noon, and by 12:07 p.m., we were both in running clothes, shoes laced, and running out the door. Every day we snuck in a four-mile run, ate some food while we cooled off, and then hopped into the in-office shower and were back with clients by 1 p.m.

The mid-day lunch workout is both a delicate dance and cherished treat. For me, it is huge for my physical and mental wellbeing. I got a break from both the past and future day’s clients, and I also got in a significant dose of aerobic exercise and functional mobility.

With the exception of one year, I have sustained this ritual for nearly 15 years. I can’t imagine not leaving the work space, that energy, and those thoughts, and refreshing over this hour.

Alli Hartz on local run

iRunFar’s Alli Hartz getting in a few miles. Integrating a quick lunch run into your daily routine can have huge benefits. Photo: iRunFar/Alli Hartz

Yet, when I speak to the majority of my clients, not only do the vast majority not move during a lunch break, many of them don’t even leave their desks, or stop working!

When treating clients with sensitive joint and neurogenic pain, this is a non-starter. I mandate, at minimum, a concerted mental break, but encourage as much physical activity during a lunch break as possible. Not enough time? No space? Not safe to exercise outside? Walk in the building.

Just keep moving. And, if possible, get outside. Do whatever you can to vacate your immediate work area.

Step 7: Mindful Running

Many runners have a thriving morning run routine. Others wait until lunch time. And the rest lace up the shoes at quitting time to leave the workday behind.

Whenever you run, endeavor to make the miles more mindful. While most runners gravitate to running to have the time to mentally sort through the day, contemplate our issues and challenges, and plan the future — and others pair with friends and chatter  — when possible, get out of your head and into your body.

Road runners - early morning

Whether you run with friends or alone, try to make your run more mindful. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Feel your body. Check in with your feet, legs, arms, belly, and lungs. Fill your body with breath, and then feel the air exit your whole body. Check in with posture — do you “look fast and feel fast?” Check in with symmetry — do the legs lift, arms swing, and feet strike with symmetry?

Increased body awareness is associated with better mental wellbeing, as well as enhanced awareness of minor imbalances and stiffnesses that can later be addressed with mobility or pre-hab strategies. Body awareness also helps power down a hyperactive mind, giving it the rest it needs to do good work — either later in the day, or the following day.

Step 8: Post Positively or Power Off

Widespread electronics and social media have put both amazing entertainment and unprecedented social connectivity at our fingertips. And with the smart phone always at arm’s reach, it’s all too easy to overconsume.

Too much entertainment and social media, particularly at night, has two consequences:

  • First, excessive electronic (“blue”) light in the evening hours can negatively impact sleep. Blue light disrupts the natural serotonin cycle, making it more difficult to both fall and stay asleep.
  • Second, prolonged social media consumption is strongly tied to increased anxiety. Comparison, fear of missing out, and adrenaline-spiking content can increase stress, negatively impacting both restfulness and overall health and wellbeing.

Instead of mindlessly consuming (or “doomscrolling,” that is, consuming dramatic, often negative news stories and information), consider creating. Post positively, either your own content — what you’re doing, what’s current inspiring you, and what you’re looking forward to — or commenting with words of encouragement and support to those on your network.

Current sleep research recommends electronics be off a full hour or more before bedtime. So, post positively, and then power it off. Have a short evening social media routine, then turn off the apps.

Woman scrolling in bed

Scrolling through social media late in the evening can severely impact sleep. Photo: Shutterstock


Like the perfect ultramarathon, an optimized life is about the many small details, executed consistently. Small habits and routines can transform your body, and optimize your working and running day. Start small, win big.

Call for Comments

  • Have you practiced any of the above in your daily life? If so, how has it worked for you?
  • Are there any of these tips that you plan to implement going forward?


  1. The amount of time it takes to metabolize half the circulating quantity of a substance.
Joe Uhan

Joe Uhan is a physical therapist, coach, and ultrarunner in Auburn, California. He is a Minnesota native and has been a competitive runner for over 20 years. He has a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology, a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, and is a USATF Level II Certified Coach. Joe ran his first ultra at Autumn Leaves 50 Mile in October 2010, was 4th place at the 2015 USATF 100k Trail Championships (and 3rd in 2012), second at the 2014 Waldo 100k, and finished M9 at the 2012 Western States 100. Joe owns and operates Uhan Performance Physiotherapy in Eugene, Oregon, and offers online coaching and running analysis at uhanperformance.com.