One step.

One step is all it takes to throw everything in the air. Each of the last two days have featured runs that should be a piece of cake: an easy 5-miler Tuesday and a tempo 6.5 miler this morning. But all it's taken is one step about halfway into each run to throw everything about my training into flux. But this is getting ahead of myself.

Time for a rewind.

***

It's 1 p.m. Monday, and I'm sitting in the waiting room at PACE Orthopedics in Somers Point. Soon, I'll be ushered back into an exam room, where my right knee will be flexed, bent, twisted, X-Rayed and put through other paces in an effort to diagnose what's troubling it. But for now, I'm sitting, sound from the TV over my right shoulder an afterthought, wondering what's wrong.

Because, you see, historically I'm a suck-it-up-and-deal kind of a guy. I get hurt, I run through it. Maybe take a day, at most two, then plow ahead. This time, it's different. Since banging my knee at Sesame Place a week and a half ago (Sesame Place! Can you believe it? I'd like to say Bert, Ernie and Cookie Monster caught me in a corner and started pounding on me, but no, I just carelessly banged my knee into the side of an attraction), the pain has only grown, culminating in one frustratingly painful run last Saturday.

So I'm sitting in the waiting room. Then I'm called back. A student asks me questions, puts my knee through its paces. I get X-Rays. Then Dr. Mark Harary comes in, and we go through the paces again.

Apparently, it's minor. Patella tendonitis (Right, you tell that to the knee in agony during the Saturday run). Harary says there's nothing structurally wrong and prescribes a brace, a Cho-Pat strap, for me to wear. It's the kind of thing you see basketball players wear. It wraps around the base of the kneecap, providing more support.

He says I can start running, which is good; I'm chomping at the bit to get back out there, because while there's still plenty of time before the marathon, I don't want to take too many steps back.

***

So it was with caution that I went for runs the last two days. I call them Jekyll and Hyde runs, because they're really two runs in one: The first half I feel fine, my brace wrapped snuggly, my stride feeling natural. Then, about halfway in, I take the One Step. The One Step that signals the start of the Hyde portion of the day's workout.

The pain begins lightly, a 1 on a scale of 10. Eventually, it's built into a 5 or 6. Not debilitating, but not much fun, either.

If the pain gets too bad in the coming days, I'll have to ease back and take a break. If it continues too long, I'll be back in Harary's office, where he'll suggest another approach.

One step. One stinking little step. Just one step got me into the mess. And all it takes is one step on a run for it to become painful once again.