Heading into the home-stretch of her first Boston Marathon, Dana Pabst's body was so sore and wobbly that she considered stopping and walking for a bit, but her inner drive pushed her not to quit the race.
She drew a bead on the heels of a woman running in front of her and forced herself to keep pace, saving her race and possibly saving her life.
The North Medford High School teacher completed her first Boston Marathon on Monday about 10 minutes before two bombs rocked the finish line. She escaped uninjured from the bomb blasts that killed at least three and injured more than 144 others not 200 yards from where she stood in line to collect her backpack.
"You could hear the explosions and all this smoke and debris coming from the finish line," says Pabst, 47, of Jacksonville. "We were clueless. Then the police were hysterically trying to get everyone out of there, and people three blocks away didn't know what was going on.
"I'm just shocked," she says. "It's sad. It's really sad."
Pabst's time in the marathon was 3 hours, 53 minutes, which was two minutes under her goal. But she says it took her several minutes from the beginning of the race to get to the official starting line, so she was close to the four-hour mark when she ran past the undetonated bombs.
The explosions rocked the finish line four hours and nine minutes into the race.
"I got to finish under the time I wanted and I got to live; how amazing is that?" Pabst says. "It was a really cool thing to finish the marathon, but suddenly it doesn't really matter."
The Mail Tribune was able to confirm that at least four other Rogue Valley runners were at Monday's Boston Marathon, the oldest and most prestigious 26.2-mile race in the country.
Ashland High School Principal Michelle Zundel sent employees an email Monday afternoon stating that Ashland Middle School teacher Karl Pryor and 2012 Ashland High School graduate Alex Kiesling were also at race and were unhurt, according to a copy of the email.
Also participating in the marathon and reported unhurt were Melissa Telford and Justin Rosas, members of the Southern Oregon Runners club, club officials said Monday.
Rosas, a 31-year-old Jackson County public defender in Medford, said in an email to the Mail Tribune that he had completed his race and was driving to his hotels with his family when the blasts jolted their car. He instantly saw injured runners and the ensuing mass panic.
"I felt everything you could imagine: fear that there would be more explosions, fear that a larger building might fall, grief that I had brought my family to this place, fear that I might lose what was important to me, and a sadness I cannot express for what I had seen and for those that were injured," Rosas wrote.
After the explosions, Pabst says she made her way toward a nearby park and found her mother who joined her from Kansas to watch the race.
"Marathoners were in tears and in shock," she said.
The pair walked at length, eventually taking shelter from the cold in a McDonald's for about an hour. Bostonians seeing her race number asked how she was, then expressed anger at having what police were calling terrorist bombs rock their city and its signature race.
"I felt bad," Pabst said. "These local people were thinking terrorists were taking over Boston. Rumors were flying all over the place."
As friends in Medford waited for word from Pabst amid a government-ordered cellphone blackout, Pabst and her mother made it to their motel, where she says the enormity of the situation finally started sinking in as they watched images of the blast and aftermath on television.
"I'm freaking out more now than when I was there," Pabst said by telephone less than four hours after the blast. "It's sickening. Marathoners aren't this way."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at email@example.com.