PENTICTON'S JEFF SYMONDS enjoys a beer shower after defending his Valley First Challenge Penticton title Sunday afternoon.

PENTICTON'S JEFF SYMONDS enjoys a beer shower after defending his Valley First Challenge Penticton title Sunday afternoon.

UPDATED — Symonds and Lester defend their Valley First Challenge Penticton titles

Symonds and Lester win VFCP again, but it wasn't easy

Jeff Symonds and Carrie Lester defended their Valley First Challenge Penticton crowns, but said it didn’t come easy.

Symonds crossed the finish line with the hometown crowd behind in him eight hours, 26 minutes and 58 seconds, 20 minutes ahead of Christopher Bagg, of Portland, Oregon, who took second.

“It’s incredible,” said Symonds of his repeat. “I didn’t think that after everything I went through last year, the crash and everything, I don’t know how this is going to compare. It was a tough day out there. I had to work really hard for that one.”

Symonds, who exited the swim seven seconds behind Vancouver’s Josh Seifarth, said it always felt like the guys were on his heels. The worst part of his day was being out front.

“I love being the hunter. I love that kind of mentality,” he said. “Knowing you are out front, you’re the hunted.”

Symonds had a seven minute lead as he exited the bike and built on it.

“I knew with this quality field I was going to have to get ugly out there,” said Symonds, who finished three minutes faster than his victory last year, 8:29:57. “Luckily I came away with the win.”

Following Symonds, who pocketed $12,000, and Bagg, $8,000, was Auckland, New Zealand’s Simon Cochrane ($5,000 payout) to round out the top three pros. Victoria’s Andrew Russell was fourth ($3,250), Sean Bechtel of Caldeon, Ont., fifth ($3,000), Vernon’s Nathan Champness sixth ($2,500), New Jersey’s Scott DeFilippis, seventh ($1,500), Nathan Killam of Surrey, eight ($1,000), Doug MacLean of Boulder, Col., ninth ($750) and Adam O’Meara of Victoria, 10th ($500).

Lester, who finished 11th overall, clocked in at 9:27:24, .02 seconds faster than last year. The Brisbane, Australia, native said she thought she was going to go faster on the bike.

“It’s such a tough course. I really did forget how hard it is,” said Lester, who also earned $12,000.

She was happy with her run, clocked at 3:13:59, just under 10 minutes faster than Penticton’s Jenn Annett, who clocked a 3:23:53 and finished third overall in the women’s pro field while experiencing a panic attack during the swim.

“I hadn’t done a lot of running with my stress fracture months ago,” said Lester. “It really did hurt a lot the last 15-kilometres. I just tried to take my time knowing that I had a little bit of time on the girls behind me. Just tried to get in the nutrition when I could and just keep going.”

Lester said it’s the first time she has returned to an event to defend her title and it feels good.

“I don’t think I found it any easier than last year at all,” she said. “Possibly harder.”

Finishing second was Mackenzie Madison, in fourth was Vancouver’s Christine Fletcher, fifth was Bend, Oreg. Jennifer Luebke, sixth was Trish Deim of Meridian, Idaho, seventh was Natasha van der Merwe of Austin, TX., eighth was Alyssa Godesky of Charlottesville, Virginia, ninth was Seattle’s Cathleen Knutson and 10th was Jana Candrova of Borovany. Karen Thibodeau of Canmore, Alta., did not finish.

Winning the half distance triathlon was Berkeley, Calif., native Alistair Eeckman in 4:20:33. In a press release, Eeckman said winning the half was a shock.

“It’s definitely a very challenging course, and one of the most scenic courses I’ve done,” he said in post-race interviews. “I took the lead on the bike on the first climb by Oliver and never looked back. … It was very painful, but worth it.”

Eeckman was followed by Manson Jeffrey of Vancouver and Penticton’s Dave Matheson. The women’s side was won by Calgary’s Katie Frauts.

“It feels amazing. This is like the best place ever,” said Frauts. “I just had so much fun today. The volunteers are amazing. The athletes here are just incredible.”

Frauts said the course was perfect, especially with the weather not being overly hot or too windy. She added it was unexpected for her to win.

“It hasn’t sunk in,” said Frauts of being the first VFCP half distance female winner.

Finishing in second was Kelowna’s Cailla Patterson and Christine Cogger of Pemberton was third.

Challenge Penticton had 293 athletes in the full distance race, 414 in the half distance, 105 in the full distance relay and 55 in the half distance relay.