The extent and duration of changes in leukocyte subsets, lymphocyte subpopulations, spontaneous blastogenesis, cortisol, and catecholamines were measured in ten experienced marathoners, who ran 3 h to exhaustion in a laboratory setting. Blood samples were taken at baseline, 1 h of exercise, and 5 min, 1.5 h, 6 h, and 21 h of recovery. The 3-h endurance run was associated with significant leukocytosis, granulocytosis, neutrophilia, monocytosis, and eosinopenia during recovery. All of these parameters except for eosinophils returned to normal by 21 h of recovery. Total lymphocyte count increased 31% at 1 h of exercise, then decreased 19% at 1.5 h of recovery when compared with baseline values. T cell count showed no significant changes, but B cell lymphocytosis was measured at 5 min and 6 h of recovery. T helper/T suppressor ratio (H/S) was significantly elevated 39% at both 1.5 h and 21 h of recovery due to the decrease in number of T suppressor cells. Spontaneous blastogenesis was significantly increased 52% by 1 h of exercise and remained elevated throughout recovery. The increase in cortisol from baseline to 1.5 h of recovery correlated positively with the increase in both total leukocyte count (r = 0.78, P = 0.008) and granulocyte count (r = 0.81, P = 0.005). Our results suggest that exhaustive endurance exercise in marathon runners is associated with many significant perturbations in immune system parameters, most of which return to normal levels at 21 h of recovery.