Just 100 yards into Wolfgang Zech's 44th consecutive Dipsea Race—a challenging 7.5-miler that involves lots of steep terrain and three 50-story flights of stairs in California's Marin County—the 72-year-old just did not feel right. "My chest was really, really aching and I basically couldn’t run for nearly three-quarters of the race," he tells the San Francisco Chronicle. He finally finished with "by far my slowest" time, he says—"25, 30 minutes" slower than usual. Which is pretty amazing when you consider what he found out shortly after the race: He'd suffered a heart attack while running.
His wife convinced him to go to the hospital after he still felt lousy later that day—after staying at the race to watch the awards ceremony. Zech thought it was just acid reflux, but doctors determined the real cause, and did an angioplasty to insert two stents into two branches of a 95% blocked coronary artery. "They said they have no idea how someone his age survived," says his stepdaughter. "They think he’s a rare example of health." Zech has never suffered from heart problems before, but suspects he may have inherited problems from his father, who died of a heart attack. But he's allowed to start running again in two months, and he's determined to break the Dipsea record—by running his 68th consecutive race by the time he's nearly 97. (Read more running stories.)