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SOAR: Fleet and Free

Run a mile to mark women’s racing history.

From 23rd to 29th May SOAR invites runners around the world, to dedicate a mile to the 70th anniversary of the first women’s sub 5 minute mile.

To take part and celebrate women’s racing, download our special Fleet and Free artwork here, save it, add your time and share it across Strava and Instagram tagging @soar_running and #fleetandfree

Email a screen grab of your time and post to fleetandfree@soarrunning.com for the chance to win one of the following prizes:



  • Every runner that takes part will be entered into a prize draw to win one of 5 × exclusive SOAR Miler Memberships.
  • Fastest women’s mile logged - £250 SOAR Gift Card
  • Most unusual mile location - £150 SOAR Gift Card
  • The best 3 Instagram posts/stories tagging @soar_running that captures the spirit of the SOAR: Fleet and Free Mile celebration - £150 SOAR Gift Card
  • Bonus for any woman that beats Diane’s time and runs under 5 minutes - £250 SOAR Gift card

Your mile can be run however and with whoever you want, we just encourage you to shout far and wide to share the story of Diane Leather as you do. Your running can help make this a huge celebration of women’s racing. Raise awareness by sharing Diane’s story, run a mile on your own, or grab your running friends to organise a mile run. Together we’ll add to the rich history of mile racing, whilst giving Diane Leather her rightful place in the spotlight.

Fleet and Free Panel Talk

To mark the start of our week-long celebration of women’s racing we’re hosting a Fleet and Free panel discussion at SOAR HQ, 107 Clifton Street, London, EC2A 4LG. You’re invited to attend on Wednesday 22nd May as our panel delves into the history of women’s racing, as well as addressing the barriers that women who run to compete face to this very day. Expert panellists include Athlete and founder of SheRACES Sophie Power, Senior Writer at Runner’s World Rachel Boswell, Sports Historian Katie Holmes, Athlete and Chair of FundHerTri Bianca Fernandez-Clark, Runtester and Coach Gill Bland and Athlete and 5 Miles Easy Podcaster Steph McCall.


The Five Minute Mile

It started with an innocent comment and an article shared in one of my WhatsApp groups.

DS - ‘I didn't know a woman broke 5 minutes around the same time the 4-minute mile was broken.’ 

LL - ‘Wow it’s actually mad how celebrated the men’s was. And personally, how I’ve never even thought about the women’s record development.’ Let alone ever heard of Diane Leather!

LT - ‘Yeah, it’s a good point I want more fuss about this. When we are women who are probably more engaged in the sport than most and we still haven’t heard of her.’ 

I agreed with LT, that more fuss should be made about women’s running breakthroughs. Physiological, historical, and social factors all contribute to differences in running performance between the sexes, so let’s take some time to talk about the mile. 4 or 5 minutes is a smart, round number whilst a mile is a neat, historical measurement of a distance that most of us ‘get’. A mile race is over in minutes, but it can feel screamingly long, an eternity even if you’re the one who’s running it hard. 

Though it took place in 1954, the impact of Roger Bannister’s sub-4-minute mile on the public’s imagination cannot be understated. The time is a mark of a seriously good male athlete to this day. Iffley Road track, where the barrier was broken, is still subject to runner pilgrimages. Blue plaques, films, halls of fame and statues celebrate the achievement. But while the men were locked in a 4-minute arms race, what were the women up to?

Born in 1933 in Streetly, Staffordshire, Diane Leather was an active child playing lacrosse, netball, and hockey at school. Inspired by the women in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, she was moved to join a local athletics club, Birchfield Harriers. Her talent and potential were immediately spotted by coach Dorette Nelson Neal who set about training and encouraging her to race the mile. Diane’s running progressed beautifully and in 1953 she was part of a British relay team which set a world record for the 880 yards (half a mile) relay.

To give some context, in those days long-distance running was considered dangerous to a woman’s health and even fertility, 70 years ago, women’s races were officially capped at just 200m in the Olympic Games. This remained the case until 1960 when the 800m was added, the 1500m appearing later in 1972. But despite the lack of official recognition, the battle for a woman to break 5 minutes was fierce and it became Diane’s holy grail. Many attempts had been made, and the time was being chipped away by Anne Oliver of Britain, Edith Treybal, from Romania and Diane Leather.

Finally, on May 26th, 1954, Diane ran 5:00.2. So close now that she could smell it, she tried again 3 days later. At Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, alone at the front and without a pacemaker, she broke the tape at 4:59.6 on 29th May 1954, just 23 days after Roger Bannister’s historic sub-4. Recognised as the world’s best rather than the world record, Diane went on to reduce her mile time to 4:45.0 at the White City Stadium on 21 September 1955, the world’s best time for over seven years.

Athletics was popular in the 50’s and Diane’s achievement was celebrated in the newspapers at the time. No film exists of her sub-5, but there is a Pathe News film of her tantalising 5:00.2 you can watch here.

Sadly, Diane Leather is not a well-known name now, but she was finally inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013. She died in 2018 in Truro aged 85 after a long career as a social worker and as a mother to a family of 4. Nowadays the fastest women’s mile time stands at 4:07.64 by Faith Kipyegon of Kenya during a Diamond League meeting at Stade Louis II, Monaco, on 21 July 2023. 7 seconds feels like a lot to shave off from a mile time to me and could take some time for us to see.

A quick hunt through the internet makes me consider Gudaf Tsegay’s current 5000m world record of 14:00.21. That dangles a tantalising sub-14-minute carrot that will surely be bested soon. I hope that when it happens, we all make a huge fuss about it. Women’s achievements deserve to be recognised on their terms and as inspirations to others who may be motivated to try.

Words: Rebecca Taylor