Respiratory muscle fatigue has been demonstrated in the laboratory as well as in pathological states, but whether it occurs in healthy individuals under physiological conditions is unknown. To determine whether fatigue of the respiratory muscles may develop with endurance exercise, we measured spirometry and respiratory muscle strength and endurance in four runners before and after completion of a marathon race (42.2 km). Strength was assessed by measuring maximal inspiratory (PImax) and expiratory (PEmax) pressures and transdiaphragmatic pressure during inspiratory capacity (PdiIC); endurance was determined by measuring maximal voluntary ventilation (MVV). After marathon running (mean time, 3 h 24 min) there was no change in forced vital capacity, inspiratory capacity, or flow rates from prerace values. Decreases were observed between pre- and postrace PImax (165.8 +/- 11.0 vs. 138.5 +/- 7.6 cmH2O; P less than 0.01) PEmax (240.0 +/- 20.4 vs. 173.0 +/- 22.6 cmH2O; P less than 0.05), PdiIC (78.8 +/- 11.6 vs. 63.3 +/- 7.0 cmH2O; P less than 0.10), and MVV (178 +/- 24.2 vs. 161.2 +/- 23.2 l/min; P less than 0.005). The decrements in respiratory muscle strength and endurance suggest the development of respiratory muscle fatigue after marathon running.