THE Gaelic rock band, Runrig, will be Karen Macleod's inspiration

tomorrow morning as she runs for Britain in the marathon at the World

Athletic Championships in Stuttgart, one of only six Scots in Britain's

87-strong team.

As she heads for the start, the auburn-haired Edinburgh Athletic Club

woman will play her favourite Runrig tracks on her casette player:

suitably titled numbers like Protect and Survive (Once In A Lifetime),

Always A Winner, and The Final Mile.

And as she races, songs of the appropriate tempo will run through her

head, helping maintain her rhythm.

Macleod grew up on Skye, where she and her sister, Deborah, were

staunch fans long before Runrig became a national institution, when they

played to fewer than 50 fans in a tiny hall in Skeabost.

But the inspiration goes much deeper than that. For Karen's sister is

married to Runrig star Rory Macdonald, who writes most of the band's


In fact, they had planned to be in Germany to support Karen, but

Rory's mother is ill at home in Lochmaddy, and they decided not to


''I have tried training to the band's music, wearing headphones,''

said Karen, ''but the change in tempo from one track to another is no

use for steady running.

''There were pipers at every mile post in the Great Scottish Run.

Whenever I heard them, I picked up the rhythm. It was fine when it was a

reel -- I'd be fairly skipping along. But a lament would have me


Karen left Skye at 18, graduated in PE at Dunfermline College, and

also has a degree in English and history. She is now studying for a

post-graduate degree in health promotion.

She was a latecomer to athletics, at the age of 24, running in the

Bath half marathon to raise funds for research into cancer which had

claimed the life of her father.

''I was a bit of a sloth,'' she confessed. ''I was not very fit -- in

fact, I was absolutely clueless. I ran that first time in a pair of

Dunlop Green Flash gym shoes, and could barely walk the next day.''

Now, however, she believes that sensible, scientific drinking holds

the key to a world top-10 place tomorrow, the best, she believes, that

she can realistically aspire to -- even though her marathon success

record is better than Liz McColgan's.

Macleod has started five marathons to date, winning three -- in

Majorca, Bordeaux, and Seville.

''I take it as an omen that all three were in hot conditions, like

here in Germany,'' said Karen. ''What I am praying for is that it does

not rain. When it does, the humidity goes through the roof.''

She is critical of the support given her by the UK team. ''I am even

having to pay extra for my flight, because I took the trouble to come

here early to acclimatise.'' She will be about #900 out of pocket by

virtue of the professional way in which she has approached her

championship debut for Great Britain at the age of 35.

In the absence of scant advice from the British Athletic Federation,

her husband and coach, Welshman John Davies, found somebody at

Loughbrough College who formerly was based in Mexico and had done their

PhD on the physiology of running in hot climates.

''They have been very helpful,'' said Davies. ''The research is pretty

complex, and fluid intakes have to be calculated most precisely, with

the right blend of body salts. Karen has never had the benefit of this

before, so we think, given she can find her fluid bottles at feeding

stations, that she could be in for some kind of breakthrough.''

Davies has been driving along the training routes round their home,

near Bristol, handing bottles to his wife at the prescribed intervals.

High speed drinking on the hoof is no easy technique to master. ''Much

harder than drinking at a party,'' she confessed.

But his wife is no stranger to adversity. Almost before her running

career had begun, it seemed over, when she was thrown by a runaway horse

while pony trecking.

''When I was a kid on Skye we rode bareback,'' said Karen. ''If you

got in trouble, you just slid off. But my foot stuck in the stirrup, and

I was dragged at the gallop, hanging by my left ankle.

''I twisted my pelvis, damaging muscles and my sciatic nerve. Being an

idiot I carried on trying to run, and developed a very awkward style. It

took the physio ages to get me sorted out.''

But just three years later she took her first title, the Scottish 4000

metres closed cross-country crown, beating Yvonne Murray, later world

and European indoor champion, her former EAC clubmate who is a medal

candidate in the 3000m here in Stuttgart .

Macleod won the Scottish cross-country title again in 1987 and also

the WAAA indoor 3000m track crown that year. She has also captured the

Scottish outdoor title at 3000m, and competed in Scotland's final three

world cross-country championship appear ances.

At the last of these, in Warsaw six years ago, she picked up one of

the more unusual sports injuries, splinters in the soles of her feet,

from dancing barefoot at an impromptu ceilidh.

But lack of fulfilment at major championship level remains her biggest

frustration. In 1986, when she looked capable of joining Liz McColgan in

the 10,000m, she collapsed with an asthmatic attack as she chased her

Scottish rival, and was stretchered off.

Four years later, having reached the final of the Auckland

Commonwealth 10,000m, she was whacked by a flying elbow and finished in

agony, being hospitalised with broken ribs.

But since switching to the marathon she has enjoyed continuing

success. In 1991 she set 14 course records on the roads round Britain,

from 10,000m to the half marathon.

After a set-back in last year's London marathon, when an iron

deficiency left her in a state of collapse, she returned to set a record

of 53min. 40sec. for the prestigious and long-standing Tom Scott 10-mile

event at Motherwell.

Here in Germany Macleod has been training in the wooded suburb of Bad

Liebenzell with Scottish defector Paul Evans, who runs in the men's

event this morning.

''I've been trying to persuade Paul he would look better in a nice

dark blue tracksuit with a thistle, rather than one with an English

rose,'' said Macleod.

Despite living in England, her accent is unchanged and she at least

has no doubt where her allegiance lies. For her, tomorrow's race is a

stepping stone . . . to the Commonwealth marathon in Victoria next year.

''My greatest wish is to win a medal for Scotland,'' Karen said.