Elevated serum creatine kinase MB isoenzyme (CK-MB) activity in marathon runners after competition may arise from injury to skeletal muscle, myocardium, or a combined tissue source. Normal radionuclide myocardial scintigraphy and the selective increase in skeletal muscle CK-MB reported in such runners strongly suggest a peripheral source. To understand this biochemical finding, the authors examined gastrocnemius muscles by electron microscopy from 40 male marathon runners at intervals after competition and from 12 male nonrunners. Muscle from runners showed post-race ultrastructural changes of focal fiber injury and repair: intra- and extracellular edema with endothelial injury; myofibrillar lysis, dilation and disruption of the T-tubule system, and focal mitochondrial degeneration without inflammatory infiltrate (1-3 days). The mitochondrial and myofibrillar damage showed progressive repair by 3-4 weeks. Late biopsies showed central nuclei and satellite cells characteristic of the regenerative response (8-12 weeks). Muscle from veteran runners showed intercellular collagen deposition suggestive of a fibrotic response to repetitive injury. Control tissue from nonrunners showed none of these findings. The sequential morphologic changes in runners suggest that the increase in skeletal muscle CK-MB is a marker of cellular regeneration.