Not so cool runnings

why yes, I'm still running 3 times a week
I want to be a runner.  I want to do this.  While I'm in the middle of my run, particularly when it's warm and breezy like tonight, I feel great.  But as my run reaches an end, my knees start to hurt in a way that refuses to be ignored.  And as I'm crossing the front yard to come back inside, I'm calculating how in the hell I'm going to get upstairs unassisted.

I'm not sure what to do. I stretch my hamstrings and calves before each run. I wear knee braces while I run. I'm now icing my knees after each run and switching to tiger balm patches later that evening (and let me tell you that stuff should be illegal it feels so good on my knees). I'm resting a day or two between each run. I've even repeated week three of my Couch to 5K program in an effort to build up more strength before I continue. But my knees have now far surpassed any lung discomfort I was first experiencing.

Every other part of me feels really really good. My mind is clear, my stamina is improving, my stomach and legs and ass are getting a workout without causing me pain. Even the dog is getting used to the routine and doesn't get underfoot anymore. I don't want to stop running. Everything I Google about Couch to 5K and knee pain says things like "I started C25K but quit because of knee pain" and none of them say "I wanted to quit but found if I just did X I felt much better."

I can't be the only person who's had this happen. Rich has had knee pain since high school so this is all "normal" to him. Am I (literally) on the road to trashing my knees or is this just a phase?