Maria Schreiber

Maria Schreiber, 50, of La Grange, sits outside her home recently. She plans to run in this year's Boston Marathon after finishing the race last year just minutes before the first bomb exploded. (Wes Venteicher, Chicago Tribune / April 13, 2014)

Maria Schreiber decided to run in the 2014 Boston Marathon just a few hours after hearing the explosions near the finish line of last year's race and watching gray smoke fill the streets.

After calling her husband and texting her father — "bomb … I'm OK" — Schreiber, 50, of La Grange, navigated Boston's crowded streets back to her hotel. Those hours in the streets, watching people help one another, are the reason she's going back this year, Schreiber said.

"It's mainly a tribute to all of the wonderful things that came out of that," she said. "All of the heroism, the people who didn't think they would be heroes that day."

Schreiber, a mother of three, plans to run the Boston Marathon for the fourth time April 21. She is going alone this year and she's not worried about safety.

"I have complete faith in the organizers and in all the cities leading up to Boston, all of the communities involved all along the course," she said. "I have complete faith in them; they're ready."

Restrictions on what runners may bring on shuttle buses and other new security measures add to her confidence, she said.

Schreiber finished the race in 4 hours, 4 minutes and 27 seconds, according to Boston Marathon 2013 results. She said she crossed the finish line at 2:46 p.m., which was about 3 minutes before the first bomb went off. She had finished the race despite having torn a hamstring a few months earlier, and was celebrating her finish by blowing kisses and waving to cheerers.

The first explosion — from what turned out to be a home-made pressure-cooker bomb — wasn't very loud, she said. A man near her speculated a transformer had blown. Then the second bomb went off.

"There was no doubt about it; I knew exactly what it was," she said.

The streets filled with smoke, and she watched people share cellular phones, comfort one another and offer help. Three people were killed in the bombing attack and more than 260 were injured.

"It was an experience of these crazy evil seconds, but afterward the amount of love, outpouring, the greatness in people was magnified," she said.

She made it to her hotel room at about 7 p.m., she said. She kept up a cheerful front on the phone with her 8-year-old daughter, and then hung up and started to cry.

"You felt relieved, elated, guilty and sad at the same time," she said.

Her husband said, "You're coming back, aren't you?"

"I wasn't, but now I am," Schreiber replied. "… I'm not letting somebody stop me."

The 2014 Boston Marathon will be her 11th marathon, she said. She qualified for the 2014 Boston run in the Chicago Marathon in 2012, she said.

Her training regimen includes three runs a week — usually 6 to 8 miles on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:20 a.m., and a 10- to 21-mile run on Sundays, she said. The early-morning hours are the only time she can fit in the runs and still get her 9- and 13-year-old daughters and her 16-year-old son where they need to be all the time, she said. She left her career in marketing several years ago to be a stay-at-home mom, she said.

Don Schaeffer, 57, also of La Grange, ran the marathon last year but decided not to return this year. The bombs didn't particularly influence his decision, he said.

"Having done Boston once, it was enough for me," said Schaeffer, who finished the race about 35 minutes before the bombs went off and was three blocks away.

His wife and children were with him last year, and he sometimes thinks about what might have happened.

"They could have just as easily walked down that street, but thank God they went a different direction and were safe," he said.

He said he thought about returning this year just to show resilience in the face of the terrible event, but he said enough runners are doing that.

"The running community is very strong, and will go on undaunted," he said.

wjventeicher@tribune.com

Twitter @wesventeicher