Runners, how can I protect my knees? I'm only 26 but experience knee pain during & after long runs?

I'm a 26 year old female and I've been running regularly ever since I was 12 years old, with a few periods of random breaks. I've never had a problem with my knees until about 4ish months ago (except maybe for occasional pain after a long run last summer but my mileage was inconsistent last year and... show more I'm a 26 year old female and I've been running regularly ever since I was 12 years old, with a few periods of random breaks. I've never had a problem with my knees until about 4ish months ago (except maybe for occasional pain after a long run last summer but my mileage was inconsistent last year and dropped immensely). After nearly a year of inconsistent running (running a few times a week, then skipping a week, then running every day, then skipping 2 weeks) I threw myself back into running in January, logging 100 miles for the month! That's when the knee pain really started. I dropped all the way down to 20 in February because of it, then gradually increased back up to 35 in March.

When I run 2-4 miles, my knees don't bother me at all. When I run 5+ they do. The majority of my runs are on pavement but I do incorporate trail running as well when I have the means to get there. I replace my shoes 2-3 times per year; right now I'm running in Merrell hiking shoes and they feel great (very light yet great grip on the road).

So how can I protect my knees since running is my passion and I don't want to stop but I also don't want to do permanent damage to them? I need them for many more years! ;-)
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