SINCE THEIR appearance on the Washington running scene a year ago, Fred and Henley Roughton and their daughters Robin and Lucy - "The Running Roughtons" - have helped spark a remarkable surge of interest in women's running.

The Roughton saga began with Robin, now 14, who two years ago turned in the fastest time of anyone, male of female, in her school's annual 600-yard physical fitness run. Fred, an airline pilot who had run some track in high school, decided to develop his daughter's promise by pacing her through workouts on the nearby Mount Vernon High track.

After a few weeks of training, he persuaded Robin to enter an age-group half-mile race in Norfolk.

"She won the thing in a breeze," he recalled."That's when I was convinced she had talent."

That first summer Robin mostly ran with her father, but when he was away flying, her mother would drive her to the track and wait while she completed her interval laps.

"I'd sit in the stands, and I'd see Robin suffering, but still and all it looked like fun," Henley said.

After six weeks of watching, she decided to try running herself and persuaded a neighbor, Helena Corfield, to join her. By September, the two women struggled through their first mile and continued for four months doing a mile daily, bringing their times down a second or two each day.

Since babysitters were hard to find, they'd take the kids along. Lucy, then 4, would use the long jump pit as a sandbox; the two Corfield boys, aged 2 and 4, would clamber over the bleachers.

The following spring Robin recorded 10:08 for 3,000 meters at a local AAU championship at Maryland University. Fastest time for 13-year-old girls in the U.S. last year, it's equivalent to a 10:50 two-mile. Not yet a high school freshman, and without benefit of a formal school running program, Robin has broken or threatened Northern Virginia schoolgirl track records for the half-mile on up.

Henley, meanwhile, began establishing herself as Washington's leading over-30 woman runner by setting marks of 5:32 for the mile and 2:33 for the 880 in meets sponsored by the Potomac Valley Senior Track Club.

"Lots of women have endurance, but Henley has basic speed," her husband said proudly. "Many men can't run that fast."

At summer's end the Roughtons switched their attention from track to road running. While Robin continued to train for the middle distances, Fred and Henely set their sights on the 26.2 mile Marine Corps Reserve Marathon held here in November. Fred worked up to runs of 10 to 12 miles daily, while Henley was running about two miles less. They ran their first 20-miler together in September.

September also brought a return of baby-sitting problems. To get in morning workouts without leaving Lucy alone in the house, Robin would start running at 6:15 and Fred at 6:45. When Robin returned shortly after 7, Henley would begin her hour-long run. Robin would leave for school after Fred returned. Somehow, everyone got to run, and no one missed breakfast.

At the Marine Marathon, Henley placed fifth among women in 3:22 and qualified for the Boston Marathon.

Slowed by cramps, Fred failed to break three hours, but in January he ran a 2:55 marathon in North Carolina while Henley set a state women's record of 3:11. They ran in the Boston Marathon in April.

In recognition of her achievements, which also include a 65:25 in the 10-mile Cherry Blossom Classic and a 40:47 for 10 kilometers. Henley was named "most improved woman runner" for 1977 by the D.C. Road Runners Club.

Robin confesses she resented it at first when her mother began to share the limelight. But running ultimately brought the two closer together.

"My friends think it's neat that my mother runs," she said. "Sometimes people ask if she's my sister."

"We stick up for each other against Daddy the Coach," added Henley.

Fred is content to remain in the background, enjoying his women's successes and monitoring their progress. Last fall, after observing the fragmented state of women's running in the area, he encouraged Henley to form a club for women runners. The club, Washington RunHers Unlimited, now has close to 50 members. Henley is president and Fred serves as coach and "token male."

"Fred is really nuts on the subject of women runners," observed "Running Times" magazine this month, "and although they may not all have trusted his motives at first, the RunHers have grown to rely on his judgment . . . His conviction is that each member hasn't begun to see her own potential."

Fred's personal goals focus on the marathon. He is constantly on the lookout for new ideas in training, shoe design, injury prevention and diet for marathons.

"Basically, I'm not competitive," he said. "I like running alone, and for me the daily run is everything."

That leaves Lucy, 6, the only non-racing Roughton. But her contemporaries had better watch out. Last summer, at an all-comers meet, she took third place in a nine-and-under mile race.

"Lucy was determined to win a medal, and she did," her father reported. "She hasn't competed since."