Sandi Borgman, of Glen Ellyn, crossed the finish line before the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon last year. She'll run again this year, in honor of the victims, she said. (Sandi Borgman, Handout / April 11, 2014)

The Boston Marathon finish line has eluded JoAnn Cassell twice. But not this time, she says.

She plans to kiss the ground this year when her shoes finally meet the pavement at the end of the race.

And then, she'll put a flower down at the spot where a young boy was killed last year when the bombs went off.

"It will push me harder," said Cassell, who trains with the Wheaton Chicago Area Runners Association group. "Running a marathon is not only a physical effort but also a mental effort….I think, knowing that this is not even half as hard on me as it was on the people who got hurt last year, will push me harder to finish stronger."

Cassell, of St. Charles, is among the dozens of suburban residents who are going back to Boston with unfinished business. Some want another shot at crossing that finish line. Others look for some form of closure after a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three and injuring 264.

Sandi Borgman, of Glen Ellyn, crossed the finish line last year and didn't plan to go back, calling it one of the hardest races she's ever done. But she said she realized she has a new reason to run this marathon.

"Going back is like an itch you have to scratch. You have to get it done," she said. "You just want to go back and honor those who can't."

For Cassell, who has finished six other marathons since the bombings, this finish line will mean the most. She had intended to race the 2012 Boston Marathon but didn't because of the heat wave. Last year, she was just past the 26 mile marker and two turns from the finish line when the race was halted.

She described feeling angry about not being able to finish. And then feeling guilty about feeling angry.

"You mourn your loss. You mourn the people's loss. You mourn for everybody else," she said.

Since the Boston tragedy, she has thought of the victims each time she crossed a finish line.

"Whenever I think of quitting or slowing down, I think of all those other people who don't get to live the life they wanted," she said. "The victims are in my heart as I imagine many other people's as we're going to run again."

Borgman will be doing the same. She could not hold back her emotions when she talked about the upcoming race.

"I didn't even realize how much it affects me until people started bringing it up," she said. "It kind of brings it to the surface. A year has passed, but there's still a lot of emotion there."

It isn't a fear of a repeated tragedy, she said. It's more a fear of not knowing how she will respond when she is back on the course.

She hopes this race can replace some of the bad memories with better ones.

Life hasn't been the same since last April, Borgman said. She hates sirens and loud and sudden noises. When fireworks went off at a White Sox game, Borgman said she grabbed three of her kids and hid under the bleachers, crying.

It has been the same for Christine White, also of Glen Ellyn, who had to abruptly leave Fourth of July fireworks during a panic attack.

Things have gotten better, White said. Training for this year's marathon gave her a feeling of power.

"There's a lot of gratitude that I'm able to go back," she said.

She hopes that the last five miles of this year's race, the time when most runners are pushing their bodies to the brink, she will remember to take in her surroundings.

"Whether it's just me stopping and giving somebody a hug, I just really want to be present. I have to have my head on top of my shoulders and take it all in," she said. "I'll go with what I feel I need to do to make it as memorable as possible and feel like I'm giving back something to Boston and the racing community."

qtruong@tribune.com