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Published: Thursday, 9/13/2007

Jo Dee Messina lives, works at a marathon pace


Jo Dee Messina is back in Nashville, having arrived on a red-eye from Los Angeles hours earlier. As she talks by phone, she's getting her hair and makeup done.

For once, she's sitting down. That's not an easy thing for her to do. As she sits, the energy has to go somewhere, and it manifests itself in a torrent of conversation and hearty laughs.

Messina is to perform Wednesday in the Ritz Theatre in Tiffin, but for now, she wants to talk about running. Lots of running. She's in the final stages of training for the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 7.

"I've run the Boston Marathon before, so this radio guy says, 'Hey, you want to run Chicago with me?' I said, 'Sure,' but, of course, now he's backed out, and I'm still running," she says, punctuating the comment with one of those hearty laughs.

Messina's always bubbly and energetic, but she's got three days worth of energy itching to get out. That's how long she's been unable to run because of a hip injury she sustained during an 18-mile run last week. "It kind of feels like someone's jabbing me with knives," she says.

There's no cool story explaining why Messina started running several years ago. "I just wanted to get in shape," she says.

But the miles on the road, listening to her iPod, allow her to mentally prepare for the demands of her career, which began a little more than 10 years ago when Messina introduced herself to radio with "Heads Carolina, Tails California." Her debut single made it all the way to No. 2 on the radio charts.

Messina really broke through with her second album, "I'm Alright," which contained the No. 1 hits "Bye Bye," "I'm Alright," and "Stand Beside Me." Over the years, other hits followed, including "That's the Way," "Burn," and "Bring on the Rain." Many of the songs she has recorded have touched on hardships she's had to deal with in life. Most notably, she admitted in 2004 that she was an alcoholic and entered rehab. Then, her engagement to road manager Don Muzquiz ended.

The hardships have shaped her personally, but, she says, they have also given her an even greater connection to her fans.

"The stuff I've gone through in life is no different than anyone else. People can relate to what's happened to me."

she says.

Today, she's preparing for the release of her next album, "Unmistakable," which was originally due in stores on Nov. 6 but has now been shelved because of an internal issue at her label, Curb Records.

"It's a little frustrating, especially because the people at the label said this is the best stuff I've done. I'm very anxious to get it released," she says. "I've been writing a lot too. I'm hoping to get some other artists to cut some of my stuff. That'd be cool."

Despite the delay in the disc's release, Messina is still going to roll out some of the songs and try them out on the fans who come to her show in Tiffin.

"I'm excited about playing in a smaller theater like that. Those venues are perfect for getting to learn about your audience. That's not so easy when you're playing in front of 60,000 people," she says. "This will really give me a chance to slow down and talk to people in the audience."

Talking, sure, but it's hard to envision Messina slowing down.

"You kidding me? I'm still as impatient as can be," she says, laughing. "I'll be running, and I'll look at the odometer [on my running watch], and think, 'What? That's got to be at least 12 miles.' It doesn't instill patience in me at all."

Jo Dee Messina will be performing at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Ritz Theatre, 30 South Washington St., Tiffin. Tickets range from $30 to $65. Information: 419-448-8544 or www.ritztheatre.org.

Contact Brian Dugger at: bdugger@theblade.com

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