The Association of Road Racing Athletes (ARRA), the organization representing the leading distance runners in the country, has decided to boycott the $50,000 Diet Pepsi 10-kilometer run Saturday in Purchase, N.Y., the first race on the Grand Prix running circuit.

The circuit, which calls for prize money to be paid to clubs belonging to The Athletics Congress (TAC), has been sanctioned by the International Amateur Athletics Federation on a one-year experimental basis. The clubs of the men's and women's first-place winners are scheduled to receive $10,000 each for Saturday's race, representing the 10-kilometer national championship.

According to Don Kardong, the administrative director of the ARRA, when the organization voted last month in Chicago to reject the Grand Prix payment proposal, the members also passed a resolution stating "that none of us would run in a Grand Prix event."

Kardong said the organization had asked Diet Pepsi to conduct the race as a non-Grand Prix event as it had in the past, but he said, "They are insistent on going ahead with this."

"I think they're getting bad information," he added. "I think they are under the impression that we'll show up anyway. They're making a very bad mistake."

Kardong said the athletes definitely not participating include Herb Lindsay, Garry Bjorklund, Bobby Hodge, Joan Benoit, Ellison Goddell and Randy Thomas.

Bill Rodgers, who has had a long-term working relationship with Pepsi, representing it at running clinics, is also not planning to run, according to his wife. "He's torn between his loyalty to the program," said Ellen Rodgers, "and his loyalty to the runners."

"I'm very impressed with this group of people," said Chuck Galford, attorney for ARRA. "The runners would like to end the hypocrisy in road running. It's not healthy for the sport. The TAC proposal doesn't improve the situation for the runners. The sponsors publicize the events and get recognition for the purses. The race directors pay the money to the clubs. But once the money gets to the clubs, the same IAAF rules apply.

"The runners can't receive more from them than their actual expenses and their lost pay. The clubs serve as a laundering service for the money but the athletes are still in the position of having to use some creative bookkeeping to make a living.

"I think what's going on now is a test of strength."

In Purchase, N.Y., Joseph Block, vice president of Pepsi Cola, said he wasn't sure how effective the boycott would be.

Approximately 250 runners have been invited to compete in the event, Block said. Among the better known runners expected to participate are Rod Dixon, Steve Scott, Don Paige and Jan Merrill he added.

Jan Lillstrom, the coordinator of the TAC/LDR Grand Prix circuit, said, "This is very disappointing. We had hoped that all the road racing athletes would support this. I personally feel we made a major breakthrough in establishing a structured system where athletes can financially support themselves during training and competition while enjoying the benefits of maintaining international eligibility."

Lillstrom said he had received a letter from Ollan Cassel, head of TAC, dated yesterday, clarifying the prize-money structure, which "may change things."

According to Lillstrom, the letter from Cassell constitutes written permission for athletes to "receive subventions, or grants of pecuniary aid . . . comparable with high-paid salaries, in the order of magnitude of those received by other professional athletes."

Kardong, however, said he had seen the letter and that it contained no substantive changes from the status quo. "The boycott is still on," he said.