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Around the time of his death, Dan Runyan was training for the Chicago Marathon.

The 45-year-old was running with the student run club at Schererville's Grimmer Middle School, where he taught, when he collapsed. He had suffered sudden cardiac arrest.

While he was in the hospital, a couple of his co-workers were discussing how, even if Dan recovered, he wouldn't be able to do the marathon. They talked about doing it in in his place.

He died two days later.

After that, Runyan's cousin-in-law, Dave North, got the idea of running the Detroit Marathon near his home in Mason, Michigan, as a way to honor Dan. His widow, Heather, said, Why not the Chicago one?

Dan had already started raising funds for the Organization for Autism Research in order to participate in the marathon. Of course, North said.

Dan's colleagues, Susan Thompson and Nick Meyer, signed up for the Chicago Marathon as well, raising money for that organization in the process.

On Sunday, the three completed their goal, crossing the finish line to meet Heather Runyan, who cried when North presented her with the finishing medal. He had worn Dan's bib number during the race.

"It was very emotional. It was a very bittersweet day," said Heather, who lives in Portage with her and Dan's two kids, 15-year-old Avery and 10-year-old Cole. "We were able to accomplish (Dan's) final goal by having these three run for him and finish for him."

Dan had been working toward that goal since 2011, when he weighed 340 pounds and decided to alter his lifestyle. Running was a big part of that change. He did two half-marathons, two 10-mile Tough Mudders, two Warrior Dashes, a Spartan Race, and countless 5Ks. But not a full marathon.

He lost 100 pounds in the course of all that running. He coached track at Grimmer Middle School, where he was a science teacher. He loved running with the students.

"He was literally in the best shape of his life," Heather said. She said he had no prior heart problems, no medical issues of any kind (she now encourages everyone over the age of 40 to get their heart checked, even if they think they're healthy).

Thompson, a fifth-grader teacher at Grimmer, called Dan "kind of like our gentle teddy bear." "He was always kind, never said negative stuff about anyone, always wanted people to do their best," she said.

So even before he died, Thompson and Meyer, another Grimmer science teacher, knew they would do the race for Dan.

She kept training even after finding out, in June, that she was pregnant (her doctor cleared her to run).

"Dan and I used to always talk about our training programs," the 36-year-old said. "I knew he would be proud of me for actually sticking it out and finishing it."

Just like she did at the marathon. During the race, she wore a necklace with Dan's ashes; Meyer had a pair of shoelaces from Dan's running shoes.

"If anything I was just happy I helped provide a sense of closure," Thompson said.

North, 35, said he felt guilty during the marathon, that he was able to do it while Dan couldn't. But when he handed Heather the medal at the race's conclusion that feeling disappeared.

Heather, there with friends and family, held up a sign for Dan that said "Hero" spelled out with boxes from the periodic table: Hydrogen, Eronium, Oxygen.

It had been a wet and rainy Sunday. Runners were getting blisters galore.

"But I couldn't quit," North said, "because I knew I had to do it for Dan."


Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.