Correlations between distance running performance and laboratory testing were examined in 11 marathoners of similar fitness (VO2max 66.4 +/- 1.7 ml/kg X min). They performed a graded treadmill test and a subsequent 30 km cross-country run. Heart rate, oxygen intake, blood lactate, and plasma catecholamines were measured during the treadmill test. Lactate equivalent, individual lactate threshold, 4 mmol lactate threshold, submaximum (16 km/h running velocity) lactate behavior, submaximum catecholamine responses, submaximum lactate-catecholamine product, measured VO2max, and extrapolated VO2max were examined for their adequacy in the evaluation of distance running capacity. Race times and free urine catecholamines were estimated in the field experiment. Direct correlations were found between race times and minimum lactate equivalent (r = 0.69), submaximum lactate levels (r = 0.52), submaximum catecholamine responses (r = 0.69), submaximum lactate-catecholamine product (r = 0.79), respectively. Inverse correlations were observed between race times and oxygen intake at individual lactate threshold (r = -0.68), 4 mmol lactate threshold (r = -0.76), measured VO2max (r = -0.71), and extrapolated VO2max (r = -0.63). Further correlations were found between submaximum noradrenaline and lactate behavior (r = 0.53), as well as between noradrenaline and adrenaline responses (r = 0.72). No significant correlation was observed between relative heart volumes or catecholamine excretion and race times.