When the Boston Marathon bombings occurred last month, she immediately called friends and former roommates in the race. She stayed at home in Santa Cruz, Calif. instead of going to work because she was too worried.
The 23-year-old was among several who ran Sunday's OC Marathon in honor of the tragedy and terror that struck Boston last month.
The OC Marathon race announcer referred to O'Donnell as "the Queen of the Asphalt." She finished as the marathon's women's champion in 2 hours, 47 minutes, 13 seconds. She wasn't necessarily running to win or for some cute nickname.
"I really wanted to run this race for 'Boston Strong,'" said O'Donnell, who had that slogan pinned to the back of her top. "I was thinking about [Boston] a lot today."
Kevin Havel, a 23-year-old Laguna Niguel resident, won the OC Marathon in 2 hours, 23 minutes, 34 seconds. He said some of his thoughts were on Boston.
Memories of the Boston Marathon bombings were present early Sunday morning at Fashion Island in Newport Beach. Before the runners took off at 5:30 a.m. a moment of silence took place to observe Boston.
Intense security served as the backdrop for runners in the ninth annual OC Marathon. Bomb-sniffing dogs made their way through shuttle buses and were present at the start, as well as at the finish line at the OC Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa.
O'Donnell and Havel, as well as several other runners, said they were not concerned with a copycat terror event taking place at Sunday's race. The majority of runners also didn't appear to be worried.
"My heart hopes [the Boston Marathon tragedy] wasn't really running related," O'Donnell said. "Whoever did it they just wanted the press. Boston is so big. I didn't really think a similar thing would happen here. But I'm going to keep on running and I'm going to run for 'Boston Strong.'
"There's nothing that's going to stop me from running marathons and I think that's a mentality that all runners have. And I think it's great."
O'Donnell, a hurdler for Harvard track and field, has now won three marathons. She won the Half-Moon Bay Marathon last year when she finished with her boyfriend Ryan Neely, who also graduated from Harvard and competed in Sunday's OC Marathon. He finished fifth in 2 hours, 29 minutes, 40 seconds on Sunday.
O'Donnell won the 50K Rodeo Valley Trail Run (31 miles) last year and the Santa Cruz half-marathon earlier this month.
She is a PhD student (environmental services) at UC Santa Cruz. Neely is a PhD student (neurobiology) at UC Berkeley.
Havel was a former runner at Stanford. He ran in the OC Marathon for the first time. He said he noticed the enhanced security and overwhelming safety. But he was concentrating more on running.
"Regardless of what happened [last month], we're going to be out there and we're going to be running," he said.
Liz Camy, 29, of Camarillo, was the women's half-marathon champion (1 hour, 18 minutes, 53 seconds). She said she appreciated the moment of silence and it made her reflect on last month.
She also wasn't concerned about terror taking place during the race.
"I'm one of those people that thinks you just can't avoid places," Camy said. "You just never know what will happen. You just trust the event, the people who are taking care of everyone and you do the best you can. You can't really live in fear.
"Obviously what happened in Boston will always be in the back of my mind, but you can't live in fear."