Born: April 24, 1958;

Died: June 8, 2021.

BETTER known to the wider public as Karen Macleod, from the days when she represented Great Britain in Olympic and World Championships, and Scotland at three World cross-country championships and two Commonwealth Games, Karen Nicolson was by any standards an outstanding athlete.

She won Scottish and British track titles, and on her inaugural Scottish cross-country success she headed the future European and Commonwealth champion, Yvonne Murray.

A late starter in the sport at the age of 24, Karen won the UK indoor 3,000 metres title and the Scottish outdoor title twice before graduating to 10,000 metres, at which she also became Scottish champion.

She finished twelfth, with broken ribs, when Liz McColgan won her second Commonwealth 10k gold in 1990, and fourth in the 1994 Commonwealth marathon, missing bronze by less than a minute in her fastest time of two hours, 33 minutes and 16 seconds. A fall at a drinks station cost any chance of a medal.

She was 16th in the marathon at the 1993 World Championships, and more than 20 years after retirement, she still ranked in Scotland’s all-time top 20 at 10k, half-marathon, and marathon.

In 1991 she set 14 course records around Britain, representing the UK worldwide. She won the 1993 Seville marathon, slicing more than four minutes from the course record, and won the Bordeaux and Mallorca marathons.

Yet she was plagued by injury and illness. “When I was a kid on Skye, we rode bareback,’’ Karen once told me, describing a fall from a runaway horse.

“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.’’

An asthma attack caused her to be stretchered off the 1986 Commonwealth trial, denying her the chance to join McColgan, who won in Edinburgh. Later, an iron deficiency threatened her career, but she returned to set a record of 53 minutes 40 seconds for Lanarkshire’s iconic Tom Scott Memorial 10-mile race.

When she won the UK veterans’ 10-mile title, only 11 men beat her. When she collapsed in the Boston marathon, it emerged she had the kidney condition IgA nethropathy. This led to dialysis, and a transplant from her sister, Deborah, in 2008.

Four weeks after surgery Karen, by then 50, completed the Skye Half with Deborah, who is also an accomplished runner. She still holds the course record.

In her latter years Karen took to wild-water swimming, and it was when she was about to enter the water at Clachan Sands, while on holiday in North Uist earlier this month, that she suffered what was to prove a fatal stroke. Despite being airlifted to Glasgow, she could not be saved.

Nicolson was a vivacious, vibrant, and popular team-mate who displayed a great zest for life. On her final World cross-country appearance in Warsaw, in 1987, she got splinters in her feet, dancing barefoot at an impromptu ceilidh. It was to be the last time Scotland competed independently, thereafter being subsumed into GB.

McColgan, who finished second in Warsaw, said on learning of Karen’s death: “I knew her really well – she was such a lovely person – a really lovely, genuine person.”

Born at Iringa, in the former Tanganyika [Tanzania], where her father was a Crown Agent architect, Karen was the only one of her siblings – Deborah, Neil, and Ruairidh – to have been born at altitude. She ascribed her great lung capacity to the altitude at which she lived her early years.

The family returned in 1962 to Skye when she was four, and settled at Kyleakin. She spoke “kitchen Swahili” initially but learned some Gaelic on settling on Skye.

She studied PE at Dunfermline College, and took an English degree at Bristol, and a post-graduate degree in health promotion. She worked in Bath as an NHS clinical auditor, and latterly as a Healthy Working Lives Advisor for NHS Highland, and qualified as a NEBOSH (National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health) Health and Safety Advisor.

Her running debut was the Bath half-marathon, to raise funds for research into cancer which had claimed her father’s life.

“I was a bit of a sloth,’’ she acknowledged later, having become a dedicated athlete. “I liked my drinking and 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.’’

But, coached by her first husband, Welsh teacher John Davies, she became a single-minded and feisty competitor, training six days a week. Her compatriots, McColgan and Murray, had more then 10 years’ running experience on her, having started young.

The rock-folk band, Runrig, were school contemporaries of Karen and Deborah, and the sisters were at the band’s concerts, played before barely 50 people in Skeabost, long before they became a national institution.

Deborah married the Runrig bassist and songwriter Rory Macdonald, and the group sponsored Karen from the Victoria Commonwealth Games to the Atlanta Olympics. She would warm up playing such songs of theirs as Protect and Survive, Always The Winner, and The Final Mile.

She remained on amicable terms with her first husband, but returned to Skye, settling at Braebost and marrying a former childhood sweetheart, Angus Nicolson, in 2009.

Last year Karen called in favours from various Scottish bands and artists, putting together a 17-track CD, ‘Back on the Floor’ ( with all proceeds going to Highland kidney charities.

Runrig’s ‘An Dealachadh’ (The Parting) was the final theme of a celebration of her life on June 14.