Nicole Lemal can't help but think that cooler temperatures and a better training regimen may have saved her life Monday.
Lemal, a Weirton native, finished Monday's terror-shortened Boston Marathon at around 3:24:39. Another 40 minutes or so and she might still have been in the blast zone.
"If this was last year, if I'd run the time I did last year and I was in the medical tent like I was last year after I finished, I would have been feet away from the blast," the Morgantown resident said. "My time was so much faster this year, the heat wasn't so bad and I was in better shape. It possibly saved my life, and my mother's."
Lemal said she was in the family reunion area, waiting for her mother, who'd gone to grab some Gatorade when the bombs went off.
"When I first heard the bangs, I didn't know what to think - I thought it was a bomb, but it was so quiet after the fact that you didn't know. It was really scary, especially when you realized what was happening."
Lemal said it was a sad ending to a day that began with such promise.
"It started off as a great day, a day many of us had dreamed about for months," she said. "It turned into a day of tragedy, just so heartbreaking."
Lemal said she knew going into Monday's race that she wouldn't be back, at least not next year. 2015, though, is a different story.
"I had planned before the race that I wouldn't be back before 2015," she said. "Next year I'm going to run the Pittsburgh Marathon. But this is too special a marathon, this is such an amazing city, I wouldn't want me or anyone else to be deterred (from coming back). I won't let this deter me from the sport that I and so many others love so much."
And while she's glad she and her friends escaped injury, "my heart goes out to the victims."
"Whether you were at the finish line or far away, we were all part of that day forever," she said. "It will never, ever leave my mind."
A graduate of West Virginia University, she was on the cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams for five years.
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)