ON THE RUN

Jo Dee Messina looks out the window of her Nashville-area home, watching the rain cascade down in sheets. It's early morning, and it's cold. "Ugh! I can't go out there!" exclaims Jo Dee. "It's freezing." But Jo Dee doesn't crawl back under the covers. No, she steps onto her revving treadmill and starts running. Fast.

"I was going to do an eight-mile run outside today," she says, her breath becoming labored. "But I can do sprint work inside instead."

Jo Dee, whose latest hit, "I Wish," is racing up the charts, is famous for selling more than four million albums and having nearly a dozen Top 10 hits, including five No.1s. But she's also fast becoming wellknown for her fitness, and the impressive goals she's set for herself.

"I'm going to do a triathlon this year!" she declares. "That's my goal."

With her track record, you'd better believe her. In the last few months she ran The P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Half-Marathon, a grueling 13-mile race in Phoenix, and biked the long-distance Lance Armstrong Foundation's Ride for the Roses in Austin.

"My immediate goal is an Olympic trial-length triathlon," she says. "That's a .9- mile swim, a 24-mile bike ride and a 6.2- mile run. These aren't incredibly difficult distances. However the transitions from the water to the bike to the run ..." She flashes a wide grin. "Now those are the toughest part."

Jo Dee's serious about her training - she takes her bike on the road with her and runs nearly everywhere. "Sometimes I listen to music when I run," she says. "Upbeat stuff like Shania Twain or Christina Aguilera. Or Sara Evans. Something to get your blood pumping."

It's swimming that Jo Dee finds the most challenging part of her training. "It's tough on the road because a lot of hotels have tiny pools where after three strokes, you're at the end," laughs Jo Dee. "And at the triathlon itself, the swim is tough because everybody gets in the water at the same time, so they're all on top of each other."

Why is Jo Dee so driven to do this?

"The whole reason I wanted to do a triathlon was because I wanted to bet on myself," she explains. "If I make it, it will be on my own merit. If I don't make it, then it's no one's fault but my own."

It's a philosophy that carries over to all aspects of Jo Dee's life.

"I compete with myself," she explains. "To compete with everybody else is insane. There's always somebody in a better position and always somebody in a worse position in life. Even with my music career, I don't like to compare myself with anybody else."

Comparisons aside, Jo Dee is excited - and somewhat taken aback - by the success of her latest hit, "I Wish," the gorgeous ballad from her Greatest Hits album.

"The positive response from the fans has been kind of surprising to me," she confides. "Everyone's used to me being more of a wise apple. More in your face. I was afraid to show a softer side."

Jo Dee plans to show an even softer side when her new album comes out this spring. The record will feature several of her self-penned and highly personal tunes.

"I'm excited!" exclaims Jo Dee. "For the first time in my career, my songwriting has been taken seriously. Some of the songs I wrote for this next record are so honest it's scary. All the stuff I write is really about me."

One song - "Sometimes Love's Just Not Enough" - is especially revealing.

"I went back and listened to that song the other day and it just slayed me," says Jo Dee. "I started crying! Partly because of the emotion behind the song. Partly because I realized I'm going to have to perform this in front of people!"

The song is about two people who love each other, but because of life's circumstances their love isn't enough to keep them together. Which raises the question: Does the song refer to Jo Dee's on-again, off-again relationship with fiance Don Muzquiz, her road manager?

Jo Dee does not want to say.

"I will tell you, though, that we are not engaged," she says haltingly. "We are not getting married. I think both of us decided that if after seven-and-a-half years of being together we're still unsure ... Well, let's just say I think you ought to be sure."

Marriage is definitely one of Jo Dee's plans for the future, however. "I'm an old-fashioned, romantic goofball who believes you should only marry once. Good luck to me!" she laughs. "Hopefully I won't have to wait until I'm 99!"

When Jo Dee was a little girl, she made a wish - that her divorced parents would reunite.

"I think every child in a divorced family wishes that their parents would get back together," confides Jo Dee. "They're two wonderful people, but put them together, and it's combustible!"

So, she reasons, maybe things do happen for a reason.

"Looking back, it was a blessing that my wish didn't come true," she says. "My father was really strict and never would have let me start singing in clubs when I was 13. I would not have had this career and been able to take care of my family and other people like I do now."

In the meantime, Jo Dee focuses on another wish, one that did go her way.

"It was always my wish to perform onstage in front of an audience," she says. "That came true. It's still amazing to me."

-- Story by M.B. Roberts

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