Plasma alpha-atrial natriuretic peptide (alpha-ANP) concentration and levels of cyclic nucleotides [guanosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cGMP) and adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP)] were studied in 23 runners before and after a marathon race. Blood samples were drawn from an antecubital vein the morning before the race (base line), at 3 P.M. (i.e., 2 h before the start), on arrival, and 12 and 36 h and 7 days later. Compared with the base-line values of plasma alpha-ANP (5 pmol/l), cGMP (3.8 nmol/l), and cAMP (15.8 nmol/l), the plasma levels of alpha-ANP, cGMP, and cAMP were increased immediately after the marathon, respectively, to 12.0 pmol/l, 12.7 nmol/l, and 50.5 nmol/l. The increase in the plasma alpha-ANP concentration was related (r = 0.85; P less than 0.001) to the changes in plasma cGMP, plasma lactate, hematocrit, and body weight. The plasma cGMP and cAMP concentrations had returned to the prerace levels 12 h after the marathon, whereas the plasma alpha-ANP concentration was significantly lower (3.1 pmol/l) than the base-line values and increased above the prerace values 36 h (7.5 pmol/l) and 7 days (6.8 pmol/l) after the marathon. The plasma cGMP level was also higher 36 h (5.4 nmol/l) and 7 days (5.0 nmol/l) after the marathon race.