We investigated the effects of an Ironman triathlon race on markers of muscle damage, inflammation and heat shock protein 70 (HSP70). Nine well-trained male triathletes (mean +/- SD age 34 +/- 5 years; VO(2peak) 66.4 ml kg(-1) min(-1)) participated in the 2004 Western Australia Ironman triathlon race (3.8 km swim, 180 km cycle, 42.2 km run). We assessed jump height, muscle strength and soreness, and collected venous blood samples 2 days before the race, within 30 min and 14-20 h after the race. Plasma samples were analysed for muscle proteins, acute phase proteins, cytokines, heat shock protein 70 (HSP70), and clinical biochemical variables related to dehydration, haemolysis, liver and renal functions. Muscular strength and jump height decreased significantly (P < 0.05) after the race, whereas muscle soreness and the plasma concentrations of muscle proteins increased. The cytokines interleukin (IL)-1 receptor antagonist, IL-6 and IL-10, and HSP70 increased markedly after the race, while IL-12p40 and granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) were also elevated. IL-4, IL-1beta and tumour necrosis factor-alpha did not change significantly, despite elevated C-reactive protein and serum amyloid protein A on the day after the race. Plasma creatinine, uric acid and total bilirubin concentrations and gamma-glutamyl transferase activity also changed after the race. In conclusion, despite evidence of muscle damage and an acute phase response after the race, the pro-inflammatory cytokine response was minimal and anti-inflammatory cytokines were induced. HSP70 is released into the circulation as a function of exercise duration.