THE RUNNER – Cody Westheimer

Original Review by Alan Rogers

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,650-mile national scenic trail on the west coast of the United States that runs the length of the country from Mexico to Canada. Along its length it passes through six of the seven North America’s “ecozones” including high and low desert, forest and arctic-alpine climes. In June 2005 ultra marathon runner David Horton set out to become the first man to run this trail and 66 days later he completed his goal, averaging over 40 miles per day in the process. J.B. Benna’s documentary The Runner: Extreme UltraRunner David Horton follows Horton on his adventure and composer Cody Westheimer composes a wonderful score to accompany the runner’s mammoth journey.

Westheimer bases the score around a strong theme and he sets it out memorably in “The Runner: Main Title”, acting somewhat as a call to arms, an encouragement for the journey ahead. Heard in the strings, the theme is backed by a strong complement of driving percussion (including Taiko drums) – which is a recurring aspect of the score. The various drum rhythms act as the musical equivalent of the driving determination of Horton’s running. Tracks such as “Meeting David”, “Running Far” and the climactic “The Arrival” all propel the listener with this powerful percussion using a variety of percussion instruments (though the use of the percussion is not overwhelming to the listener). Along with this rhythm, we hear the main theme being played in a variety of orchestrations, but always seemingly soaring overhead above the drums. To me, Westheimer, using a relatively small ensemble of instruments (percussion, strings, oboe, flute, guitar and piano), skilfully encapsulates Horton’s determination in terms of the physical aspects of the run (the percussion) and the mental determination (the soaring theme) needed for such a Herculean task. Of these driving cues, “The High Sierra” is a highlight. It brings together all these various aspects of the score into one inspirational piece of music. 

It’s not all drive and determination though. Tracks such as “Support In The Desert”, “Nancy” and “Sacrifice” slow the tempo down somewhat and shows how the main theme can be easily adapted to a slower pace. Special mention should go also to “He Spoke To Me”. It is a lovely track and features a delicate interplay of flute and oboe. The score closes with the already-mentioned “The Arrival” and brings most of the elements of the score together in one grand cue, finishing almost on a melancholic note as the impact of Horton’s achievement appears to sink in. There is a final “bonus track”, “The Runner Trailer: Music From First Friendship” which contains music featured in the trailer for this JourneyFilm movie, Although it does not contain any of the thematic material from The Runner, is an 8-minute cue that shares many features of the main score; most notably, Westheimer’s love of making creative instrument choices in his music.

As with his more recent score, Mono Lake Story, The Runner highlights Westheimer’s knack for composing memorable music using limited and interesting combination of instruments. As evidence of his abilities, the composer picked up a top award at the Park City Film Music Festival for his music for The Runner. Full of driving rhythms, I can imagine the music being played in the portable music players of runners to spur them on to greater achievements. For listeners of film and TV music, Westheimer’s score offers almost 40 minutes of excellent music that is both enjoyable and inspiring. The score is available at the usual digital stores.

Rating: ****

  1. The Runner: Main Title (2:41)
  2. Meeting David (1:45)
  3. Snow Warning (0:35)
  4. Offbeat (1:07)
  5. History of The PCT (1:18)
  6. Support In The Desert (2:06)
  7. He Spoke To Me (1:00)
  8. Bermuda Triangle (0:50)
  9. Running Far (1:52)
  10. Wrong Trail! (0:18)
  11. Burden (1:27)
  12. A New Day (0:43)
  13. Sunrise (1:06)
  14. The High Sierra (3:16)
  15. Nancy (1:08)
  16. Downstream (1:28)
  17. Nightmares (0:46)
  18. Sacrifice (1:12)
  19. The Arrival (4:27)
  20. The Runner Trailer: Music From First Friendship (8:18)

Running Time: 37:32

Journeyfilm / New West Music (2008)


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