With Olympic aspirations, Devan Wiebe has moved from the 800m to the Modern Pentathlon. She shares her journey starting three (!) new sports and her best tips on starting any new sport.
The start of a New Year is a natural time to change your routine, but I had already changed mine drastically. My New Year’s Resolutions in 2022 were more about continuing what I started, as in 2021 I decided to try my hand at a new sport — the Modern Pentathlon — and I had a lot of work to do, including learning three new sports from scratch.
What is Modern Pentathlon?
An Olympic sport since 1912, Pentathlon has been described as the test of the “ultimate athlete”, and has roots in knighthood. Seems like a natural choice for a 27 year-old female 800m runner to undertake, no?
Over the years, the competition has been adapted into a “modern” format which sees the event's five disciplines (swimming, fencing, horseback riding, running and shooting), take place over one day.
How did I hear about it?
Unlikely 99% of people reading this post, I had heard of Modern Pentathlon before.
I am a self proclaimed crazy horse girl, and have always had a passion for spending long days at the barn hanging out with horses, learning equine care, and of course, riding — in particular jumping. In 2011, I had just signed an offer to compete at UBC on a track and field scholarship when Rick Maynard, one of the coaches at the Southlands Riding Club, approached me while I was riding my horse and asked how I was at swimming?
Rick was preparing to depart for the 2012 summer Olympics as the Coach for the Canadian Modern Pentathlon Team competing in London, and he wanted to find out if I wanted to go to the next Olympics. It’s lucky my horse was standing still, as I would have laughed myself right off onto the ground — the image of me swimming in an Olympic games was about as likely as my horse competing in track and field.
By 2016, I had competed with Team Canada at the World Junior Track and Field Championships and had run close to the 2:01 800m Olympic standard (my PB was 2:03.21). I graduated from University and competed at the Canadian Track and Field Olympic Trials, confident that I was on the right track to make the team in 2020.
The question that led me to Pentathlon wasn’t so much “what changed” as “what didn’t change”?
Aside from the whole Global Pandemic and Olympic postponement (lol), I wasn’t changing. My PB was still 2:03.21, and no matter how hard I tried, the different/amazing coaches I worked with, the wonderful new training groups I joined — I hadn’t run even .01 seconds faster than I ran in 2016.
As someone who is always striving for progress and improvement, this was immensely frustrating. My track career up until that point had basically been the dream projection of constant improvement. With the exception of the year I had mono, I had never had a season where I did not run a personal best in the 800m. After five years, I knew I could step back from the 800m with a clear conscience that I really had tried everything that made sense for me.
However, despite not running faster in the 800m, I had become fitter and stronger than I had ever been. I felt like an athlete approaching my prime, not a washed up retiree! I wondered, what else I could I put my mind to… and remembered that conversation in the riding ring with Rick a decade ago.
How do I learn to fence and shoot? How far is the swim? How does the riding component work? How far do I have to run?
At one point I even wondered if there would be triathlon style transitions that required me to leap onto a horse holding a sword and wearing a bathing suit. (Thankfully there is not).
Luckily, between Google and many very helpful and welcoming members of the Pentathlon community, I found my answers, and started training. And wow, have I been having a good time! I love having multiple activities on the go, and while it can be challenging to schedule, it has been extremely rewarding so far.
However… After 15 years in one sport, I forgot what it’s like to be a beginner. To not have any idea what you’re doing, to meet new people, to not know what equipment you need… Yikes, it can be daunting.
Tips for starting a New Sport
1. Find a Support Group
If you are new to running, I highly recommend joining the Oak Street Run Club. Having training partners, a coach, and workouts already made for you is essential. I joined the Canadian Dolphins Swim Club and it has made a world of difference for my swimming. If you are going to try running on your own, or following an app/online coaching guide, those can be OK substitutes, but there is no substitute for in-person training (while respecting Covid guidelines of course).
2. Bring a Friend
I look forward to workouts so much more when I have friends keeping me company, and accountable. Getting up early for swimming, pushing up that last hill interval in a tough running workout, riding outside when it’s freezing cold, these activities are so much more enjoyable when you have a friend, even if you are just acting as a listener for each other’s complaints.
3. Get the right gear
Luckily, Rackets and Runners has court shoes because I had no idea what to wear on my feet when I started fencing (R&R doesn’t sell fencing blades so you will have to look elsewhere if you want to get into that).
My top tip for running equipment is to get fitted for quality running shoes by an expert. My go-to runners are the Brooks Ghost. They are a neutral cushioned shoe that I have been wearing for years. Everyone has a different stride and foot shape, so having someone assess your gait and foot is really the only way to make sure you are wearing the correct footwear.
4. Prioritize recovery
I was shocked when all the coaches I spoke with advised me to take a day off each week, but now I am so glad I listened. Recovery is key. Massage, physio, ice cream… make sure you listen to your body and treat it well.
5. Bring the right attitude
You are probably not going to be amazing right away. Stay positive, look for little improvements, and be kind to yourself. Also, the other people in your group are probably all nice. Have the default assumption that everyone wants to help each other and you might be surprised how few times you are proved wrong.
Trying a new sport and not sure if you have the right shoes? We can help!