PRETTY PRAIRIE -- No children and a homemade obstacle course in the backyard -- advantage Josh White.
Josh takes any advantage he can against his big brother, James White II. The Pretty Prairie men competed against each other in cross country and track through college. James usually won, which Josh attributes partly to his brother’s longer legs.
Their racing careers might have ended after college if it wasn’t for them catching a bug — obstacle course racing.
“We started from these races and watched the elites and the pros and said ‘we’re not that far off … if we step up our game a little bit, we can compete,’” Josh said.
In 2012, James ran a Tough Mudder in Texas with a former college teammate. Amped up on post-race adrenaline, James called Josh, who began to look up races from his desk at work.
Josh is the lead fitness and driving instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center.
Josh found the Spartan Beast in Texas. The problem was the 12-mile race with more than 30 obstacles was only a few months away.
That was plenty of time for Josh to train, according to James.
“The race was brutal, and we were instantly hooked,” James wrote in a Sept. 14 article in The Ninnescah Valley News.
On your mark
Alternative races are gaining ground on standard road races.
Traditional 5K and 10K races were still the most popular races in the U.S. during 2017, according to the National Runner Survey put out by industry group Running USA. Running USA reported a peak of race finishers in 2013 at 19 million, according to The New York Times. There were 18.3 million competitors in 2017.
The drop in runners came because of alternative races, according to the Times, citing data from the annual survey.
Races like the Warrior Dash lure in less-hardcore athletes to three-mile courses through obstacles and into mud. Warrior Dash claims to have more than 2.5 million competitors crawl under barbed wire fences in the mud and climb over walls on its courses since 2009.
Spartan Race started a year later and added more intense race options.
That’s where James and Josh come in.
James and Josh grew up playing sports. By the time middle school came around, the only sports offered in Pretty Prairie were football and cross country.
Josh, at 5-foot-9, put all his efforts into cross country and track. James, a 6-footer, played football for part of high school. He also ran track and cross country before swapping out football pads for running shoes.
James still holds the Pretty Prairie High School 5K record at 16:35. He would know it's the record since he’s now the coach for high school track and cross country.
James’ oldest child, Abigail, 14, set eight school records for track and the cross country record during this year as a freshman. She finished 10th at 1A state cross country on Oct. 27 in Wamego.
“Won’t be long, she’ll be passing me,” James said.
Josh, however, remembered he finished second his senior year at state -- the highest anyone at PPHS has placed in cross country.
Both ended up at Colby Community College. Coaches started to call James “White” or “Whitey” and Josh became “Little White” to distinguish between the two during an event.
Later, James met fellow athlete Anita Hallauer who ran at Cloud County Community College. The two later married.
Anita, a state champion runner at Jackson Heights Heights School, went on to Kansas State University. The brothers would end up at Stephen F. Austin in Texas.
James graduated a semester before Josh, but he waited so they could walk together in the fall. It saved the family from having to make a nine-hour drive to Nacogdoches, Texas, twice in the same year.
James became a coach and traveled for jobs in Colby, Garden City, Highland and Butler before he and his four children moved to Pretty Prairie to be closer to family.
Josh lives on the family farm.
He pointed to the barn and said that’s where his three children live — the horses. A doe walked along the back woodline. That’s the fourth, Josh said.
A barbell and a tractor tire rest on a tree in between the house and the barn. An obstacle course is nearby in the backyard.
At first, Josh and James entered the obstacle course races with friends from college. They would hang back if anyone in the group struggled.
In 2015, they competed in a race in Missouri, just the two of them, and both made it on the podium in the professional division.
“After standing on the podium receiving our prizes, we both decided we could be pretty good at this,” James wrote in the newspaper. “From then on, Josh and I have raced obstacle courses aggressively.”
Friends no longer enjoyed racing with the two. Fun for them means more than just finishing.
Although, there is a friendly competition - sort of - out at their family farm each summer. College running buddies come from all over the country for the Farm Olympics.
Events include paddling a Jon boat out on the pond and throwing a football. Someone other than a White won the competition in July for the first time in 15 years, James said.
First, Josh built a pull-up bar, then monkey bars and finally what he calls a rig. It’s a series of different hand grips used to test upper body strength as the person swings from one end to the others.
It has traditional hand grips and then the oddities: a baseball followed by a softball, and then a bowling pin.
It was the same grips the two have seen at different competitions. Although, the support beams were not cut-down trees dug into the ground.
“Call me a redneck or what, but I make it out of what I have,” Josh said.
Facing the obstacles
Obstacle course racing has been neck-and-neck for the brothers.
“It’s one of those: today can be your day or today can be a mediocre day,” Josh said.
Both have multiple first-place finishes in the 2018 season.
The two qualified for the professional division of the U.S. Obstacle Course Racing Championship but decided to compete in their age division.
James is 43 and Josh, 41. They participate in the same division.
In August, they competed at the championship on the side of Stratton Mountain in Vermont. Josh finished second place in their age group. James struggled on the last obstacle and fell to 13th.
“The thrill of the obstacle race is not knowing what’s out there and being able to conquer the course,” Josh said.
In October, Josh competed at the OCR World Championships in London. James qualified as well but couldn’t go because of cross country regionals.
The 9.3-mile race had about 100 obstacles. Carrying weighted bags, jumping walls and swinging across courses were all part of the race.
Of course, there's a lot of mud too.
Josh finished fourth in his age group and 44th overall in the competition for all age groups. He was the only American in the Top 50 for age group competition.
He finished about 17 minutes, 30 seconds behind Jonathan Albon who won the pro competition with a time of 1:27:17. Albon, a 29-year-old from England, is considered the best in the sport.
Albon is the only athlete still competing to win a $1 million prize. The unprecedented prize was put up by Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena for anyone who wins the Spartan World Championship, Trifecta Weekend Championship and the Ultra Championship in the same season.
The final race is a 100-mile run in Iceland in December. It’s the only thing standing between Albon and a seven-figure prize.
Josh and James both went from doing primarily Spartan Race courses to Obstacle Course Racing because of the high cost of entry fees. Along with traveling, the cost adds up quickly.
They hope to one day be sponsored like Albon.
The two treat training like a part-time job.
Josh works full-time at the KLETC. He also has a few side jobs, including working security and building small engines.
James has four children, but one job, which he called a “saving grace” for being able to train on par with Josh.
The two train to win. They size up their competition and plan to beat anyone, at any age. That includes each other.
“I’m not going to let him beat me and he’s not going to let me beat him,” James said. “There's only one first place.”
Josh joked along with him:
“OK Ricky Bobby,” he said, referring to a character from the movie Talladega Nights who says: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
Jackie, Josh’s wife, said they seem competitive because they are, but it’s also the way they bond. Jackie said they come to family events eager to talk to the other about a technique they learned or a new obstacle they saw.
Their energy rubs off on everyone, she said.
“I’m fortunate to have him as an older bro to look up to,” Josh said. “There are some awesome experiences we have had over the last six years.”