Elite runners top Crescent City Classic men’s field _lowres

Advocate photo by Rod Walker -- Kevin Castille

LAFAYETTE — Conditions weren’t ideal for St. Thomas More cross country coach and Lafayette native Kevin Castille to make some history Sunday morning in Jacksonville, Florida.

It was raining, cold and windy for the Jacksonville Bank half marathon — a trifecta of misery for a runner — but Castille kept his mind off the conditions and focused on the number that mattered: 1 hour and 5 minutes, the standard to qualify for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials.

“Sometimes you’ve got to put that out of your mind and you’ve got to put a smile on your face and pretend like the sun’s shining,” Castille said.

Castille’s imagination did the trick. He finished the race in 1:04:33 — a 4:56-per-mile pace — to become the oldest male qualifier for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in history at 43. He will attempt to make the U.S. Olympic team at the trials Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.

After the race, Castille was matter of fact about what he had accomplished. He fell short of qualifying for the 2012 trials — he said his best finish came at just over 1:06 — but he knew he had the potential to cross the finish line under the standard this year.

“But knowing you have the potential to do something and actually doing it, it’s hearts of a different color,” he said.

This past year has been a challenging one for Castille as he chased the qualifying time. He thought he had qualified in May 2015 at the USATF Masters half marathon championships in San Diego, where he finished in 1:04:45. But the course was deemed ineligible as a qualifier because its elevation dropped more than 3.25 meters per kilometer.

That number put the course outside the acceptable parameters for runners to use it for qualifying or record purposes, though that was never made explicitly clear by the USA Track and Field governing body or the local organizing committee’s website, according to Runner’s World magazine.

That put Castille in a bind. He would have to target an approved qualifying race and then run another qualifying time before the Jan. 17 cutoff date.

“It kind of threw me for a loop, because here we are, we’re a few weeks out from the qualifying window being closed, and I had to re-do it,” he said. “It almost put my back against the wall, put me under a lot of pressure. Being able to come in here and keep my calm and keep my cool, just do what I’ve been training to do, it’s pretty rewarding.”

It also has been rewarding to Castille to see the community rally around him.

Castille was, in his terms, “born, raised and schooled” in Lafayette. He coaches the St. Thomas More cross country team and also works as a personal trainer. He is not a sponsored athlete. That has made competing in far-flung events difficult at times, since he is paying for travel and race fees out of his own pocket.

Dr. Jason Abshire of Lafayette started an online fundraising campaign to help Castille pursue this dream, and the community responded by raising more than $7,500 by Sunday morning — well over the original goal of $5,000.

“That actually made today possible,” Castille said. “Without that help, I don’t know if I would’ve been here today. That was definitely a difference-maker for me.”

With roughly six weeks to go until the Olympic trials, Castille said he will stay in Lafayette to train rather than head out to Los Angeles early. He’s planning on arriving in California on Feb. 7 — the Sunday before the race.

“I’m going to do my training here like I’ve been doing, and it’s worked,” Castille said. “I’ve learned to make it work.”

Plus, he said, he has a responsibility outside of racing.

“I’m going to stay home, because I work and I coach,” he said. “I can’t leave the kids for that long.”