Won't start in recovery mode

My wife's MacBook Pro got extreeeeeemely slow all of a sudden (worked fine in the morning - and was unusable a few hours later). You can log in, but it takes minutes, and a long time just for your typing to register in the login-field. Once logged in, it is still extremely slow. For example just clicking on the top menu invokes the spinning beach ball which will go on, and on, and on before the menu pops up...
I believe it is a software issue, because I've started the machine from an external hard drive (with Mavericks on it), and it works like it should. Also, the internal hard drive (an SSD, I installed myself maybe 9 months ago, and still only half full) works just fine in an external hard drive dock. Also, I've verified the drive without any problems found.
So, I'd like to reinstall Mavericks, but I would prefer not having to reinstall all the software, settings etc. When I try to start up from the recovery partition it never gets past the apple logo.
I am currently in the process of backing up the hard drive to an uncompressed read-only image, on another Mac. I am doing this with the SSD in an external hard drive dock. Once backed up, what would you say is the easiest way to get back into business safely?

Thank you Arthur!
Due to the slowness of the computer, it took more than half an hour to go through the few, simple, and necessary steps...
Here is the report from EtreCheck:
EtreCheck version: 1.9.11 (43) - report generated 7 Jun 2014 13:53:53 GMT+2
Hardware Information:
          MacBook Pro (13-inch, Early 2011)
          MacBook Pro - model: MacBookPro8,1
          1 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5 CPU: 2 cores
          4 GB RAM
Video Information:
          Intel HD Graphics 3000 - VRAM: 384 MB
System Software:
          OS X 10.9.3 (13D65) - Uptime: 0 days 0:15:13
Disk Information:
          Samsung SSD 840 PRO Series disk0 : (256,06 GB)
                    EFI (disk0s1) <not mounted>: 209,7 MB
                    Suzannes SSD (disk0s2) / [Startup]: 255,2 GB (104,69 GB free)
                    Recovery HD (disk0s3) <not mounted>: 650 MB
          OPTIARC DVD RW AD-5970H 
USB Information:
          Apple Computer, Inc. IR Receiver
          Apple Inc. FaceTime HD Camera (Built-in)
          Apple Inc. Apple Internal Keyboard / Trackpad
          Apple Inc. BRCM2070 Hub
                    Apple Inc. Bluetooth USB Host Controller
Thunderbolt Information:
          Apple Inc. thunderbolt_bus
Configuration files:
          /etc/hosts - Count: 29
Gatekeeper:
          Mac App Store and identified developers
Kernel Extensions:
          [kext loaded] org.virtualbox.kext.VBoxDrv (4.3.10) Support
          [kext loaded] org.virtualbox.kext.VBoxNetAdp (4.3.10) Support
          [kext loaded] org.virtualbox.kext.VBoxNetFlt (4.3.10) Support
          [kext loaded] org.virtualbox.kext.VBoxUSB (4.3.10) Support
Launch Daemons:
          [loaded] com.adobe.fpsaud.plist Support
          [loaded] com.adobe.SwitchBoard.plist Support
          [loaded] com.microsoft.office.licensing.helper.plist Support
          [loaded] com.oracle.java.Helper-Tool.plist Support
          [loaded] com.oracle.java.JavaUpdateHelper.plist Support
          [loaded] fi.polar.libpolar.plist Support
          [running] fi.polar.polard.plist Support
          [loaded] org.cindori.AuthHelper.plist Support
          [not loaded] org.virtualbox.startup.plist Support
Launch Agents:
          [not loaded] com.adobe.AAM.Updater-1.0.plist Support
          [loaded] com.adobe.CS5ServiceManager.plist Support
          [running] com.epson.eventmanager.agent.plist Support
          [loaded] com.oracle.java.Java-Updater.plist Support
User Launch Agents:
          [loaded] com.adobe.ARM.[...].plist Support
User Login Items:
          WebSync
Internet Plug-ins:
          FlashPlayer-10.6: Version: 13.0.0.214 - SDK 10.6 Support
          QuickTime Plugin: Version: 7.7.3
          AdobePDFViewerNPAPI: Version: 11.0.06 - SDK 10.6 Support
          AdobePDFViewer: Version: 11.0.06 - SDK 10.6 Support
          Flash Player: Version: 13.0.0.214 - SDK 10.6 Support
          Default Browser: Version: 537 - SDK 10.9
          SharePointBrowserPlugin: Version: 14.4.1 - SDK 10.6 Support
          JavaAppletPlugin: Version: Java 7 Update 51 Check version
Audio Plug-ins:
          BluetoothAudioPlugIn: Version: 1.0 - SDK 10.9
          AirPlay: Version: 2.0 - SDK 10.9
          AppleAVBAudio: Version: 203.2 - SDK 10.9
          iSightAudio: Version: 7.7.3 - SDK 10.9
iTunes Plug-ins:
          Quartz Composer Visualizer: Version: 1.4 - SDK 10.9
3rd Party Preference Panes:
          Flash Player  Support
          Java  Support
Time Machine:
          Time Machine not configured!
Top Processes by CPU:
              33%          kextcache
              11%          mds
               5%          ocspd
               3%          WindowServer
               1%          fontd
Top Processes by Memory:
          111 MB          com.apple.IconServicesAgent
          78 MB          mds_stores
          74 MB          Finder
          57 MB          CalendarAgent
          57 MB          SystemUIServer
Virtual Memory Information:
          1.05 GB          Free RAM
          1.69 GB          Active RAM
          334 MB          Inactive RAM
          956 MB          Wired RAM
          218 MB          Page-ins
          0 B          Page-outs

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