Echocardiography was used to indirectly assess the effects of marathon running on myocardial performance. Thirteen marathon runners (mean +/- SEM:30 +/- 1.6 years) were submitted to a resting echocardiographic examination before racing and during early recovery from marathon racing. Indices of left ventricular performance were computed from M-mode recordings of left ventricular dimensions and aortic valve motions. Comparison of basal and post-marathon indices of left ventricular performance showed no significant differences in either pre-ejection period (PEP), left ventricular ejection index (LVEI), fractional shortening (% delta D), ejection fraction (EF), or mean rate of circumferential fiber shortening (mVcf). Cardiac output (Qc) computed from left ventricular end-diastolic (LVEDV) and end-systolic volumes (LVESV) were significantly higher following marathon running (4.9 +/- 0.4 to 6.7 +/- 0.7 L/min) because of a marked increase in resting heart rate (HR) (58 +/- 3 to 76 +/- 3 bpm). A significant decrease in systolic blood pressure (118 +/- 4 to 108 +/- 3 mm Hg), associated with a slight reduction in calculated total peripheral resistance was also observed after the race. These circulatory adjustments probably reflect thermoregulatory activity that allows a greater blood flow to the skin for heat dissipation, as well as persistence of reactive muscle hyperemia. Echocardiographic evidence suggests that marathon running does not lead to marked impairments in left ventricular performance. However, the absence of change in the end-systolic volume, despite a marked reduction in cardiac afterload, may suggest a slight alteration in contractility that could not be detected with the use of echocardiography.