Thirty-six year old Justin Coleman is a runner. It just so happens he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 2013. He is a long-time contributing member of the San Antonio Area Adults with Asperger’s Meetup group.

Recently, Justin competed in the Spartan Dallas Ultra. This race had over 60 obstacles and was over 31 miles long.  There were thousands of participants from all over the world. Justin feels that he made history for autistic people by finishing and receiving a buckle trophy.

Justin runs in several races a year, both obstacle type races and regular ultra marathons. Costumes are often a part of the specialty races. His Facebook friends are treated to frequent pictures of Justin and his running buddies. He has a grueling workout schedule to maintain his conditioning, plus he works for Amazon and will be re-entering a college program at Northeast Lakeview in San Antonio this spring.

In 2016 Justin even started traveling out of state to races. Congratulations, Justin, for all your achievements.

Here are Justin’s own words about his running and obstacle course passion:

My name is Justin and I became the first man with Asperger’s to not only run an ultramarathon but it was actually a race called a Spartan ultra (used to be called the ‘ultra beast’).

To put the whole idea in elementary terms, for a regular ‘beast’ race you have a minimum of 13 miles with at least 30 obstacles that an individual has to overcome, whether it’s climbing over a wall, crawling under a barbwire with the ground being either grass or a mix of mud with water, or even pulling up a sandbag using a pulley system.

Now imagine having to do 2 laps of this race. This was my very first time doing an ultra race of any form. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a ‘walk in the park’, as with this race there is a time limit that you HAVE to complete the race by.

As you can see in the below photo, I was with a veteran gentleman who helped me keep a cool mental state while making sure that we were able to hit the time cutoffs.

When it comes to doing these races, sometimes I do get the pleasure of being able to run with people that I know.

Most people would use the term ‘friends’ in this case, but the more accurate word for me is ‘acquaintance’. The only time that we really do get to enjoy each other’s company is really at races. But it’s worth it for the bonding memories as well as talking strategy during the race and learning from each other. The fact that it’s not just a ‘running’ race means that we find out more about each other as we train together. Some of us mostly stay in contact via Facebook, but there’s nothing like seeing each other face-to-face and enjoying each other’s company with laughs and encouragement.

Now what makes a person want to do this, some people may ask?

Well, it started with military training. I started practicing running so that I could attempt to hit the 2 mile mark for the Air Force Reserves. Mind you that this was years before my diagnosis. To make that part of the story short, I was able to pass their tests but due to my lack of education, what I was offered job-wise didn’t seem to appeal to me, so I quietly declined the offer.

However, I kept running. At this point, I had already run in 5k and 10k races. There came a point in my life where I was just tired of doing these races. I remember being on a track having some alone time with myself considering my future choices (I call it ‘time with God’, but people can choose their own words).

Needless to say, back in 2014 I learned about Spartan races and completed my first one, which was a Spartan beast (which is the most difficult of their 3 race types). After the race, I was sore in my upper body for a week & I realized just how weak I was. So I started training more intensely so that I didn’t have to do the Spartan ‘burpees’ (their penalty for not completing an obstacle).

Fast forward to today, not only did I make history in that first race but I also believe that I became the only person with Aspergers to fly overseas for other countries’ obstacle races as well.

So earlier this year, I decided to use my vacation from work to go travelling to Europe for my first time ever. I ended up flying to Dublin, Ireland first and then traveled to Belgium. I checked out a medieval castle in Ghent before travelling to Germany. While in Germany, I completed my first overseas race (still working on editing the video that I captured for that race). From there, I traveled to the Netherlands for some short sightseeing. I ended my vacation back in Dublin for more sightseeing before it was time to come back to USA.

There is just something about obstacle races that not only excites me, but also challenges me to become stronger than I already am. I also learn about new ways of eating healthier in order to take control of what used to hold me back as a kid.

Ever since I learned about obstacle racing as a whole, it has opened my eyes up to trail racing. After I tried my first trail race, I was immediately hooked. It took me about a year to realize that road races had no appeal to me anymore (with the exception of winter races). I am now studying other ideas to challenge me both mentally and physically, such as rock climbing (aka bouldering) and ‘ninja gyms’ (where its more based on completing obstacles instead of just running).

On top of all this, I now have a new reason to go back to college, which is to study nutrition.

Right now when it comes to racing, my current goal is to qualify for the new North American OCR Championships (otherwise known as Noram for short) in their age group division. Anyone can do the race in what they call their ‘journeyman’ division, but it’s a whole other animal to go to the next level of athleticism when it comes to qualifying for your age group. To put it in better perspective: think about a marathon running trying to become fast enough to qualify for the Boston marathon. The only difference is that these championships are never held in the same location and that’s what keeps things exciting.

by: Dema Stout

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1 Comment

  1. ” I became the first man with Asperger’s to not only run an ultramarathon”. Actually probably not. I did cross country and track back in high school. Did my first ultra back in 1986; before Aspergers was even added to the DSM. (AS diagnosis came in 2013.) Granted it wasn’t a spartan. I have no desire to do any spartans. I don’t enjoy racing of any kind. I enjoy trail running alone.

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