When Kenny Lloyd signed up to run the 2022 New York City Marathon, he wanted to use running to connect with both his father and grandfather. While Lloyd is certainly no stranger to the iconic race— in years past he’s watched his father and grandfather cross the finish line— he’s now attempting his first full marathon, racing not only for himself, but as a third-generation Black man in his family.
In 2013, The Guardian asked, “Why don’t black people run marathons?” which posited that, “when it comes to distance racing: black people do not run marathons. This is all the more surprising considering that nearly all the top marathon runners, both male and female, are African.” As “Running USA’s biannual National Runner Survey, reveal[ed]…only 1.6% of marathon runners in America are African-American, compared with 90% Caucasian, 5.1% Hispanic and 3.9% Asian/Pacific Islander.”
Fortunately, diversity in the sport has increased slightly over the past decade, and according to the “Running USA’s 2020 National Runner Survey… three percent of all U.S. runners are Black” nowadays. Although this disparity is still stark, the numbers becomes less surprising when you consider the fact that “Black men in this country are targets for police aggression and so-called civilian vigilantism.” Yet, even after Ahmaud Arbery was brutally slain while on a run, the stories around Black men who run are still not discussed enough or widely portrayed by the media.
The Lloyd men, however, are aiming to change the perception and narrative about Black men who run, one generation at a time. Since the grand-patriarch’s first marathon, the Lloyd family has been using running as a form of therapy and advocating for long-distance running as a form of wellness.
Ahead of this year’s TCS NYC Marathon on Sunday, Lloyd sat down with ESSENCE to share his family’s story, what it means for him to finally run his first marathon this year, and how he associates running with Black fatherhood and community.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ESSENCE: How has running been a way for you to connect with your father and grandfather?
Running has really been the connective tissue between us. Growing up watching my grandfather run, especially running marathons to prove there is an ability to get out there and commit to doing something was not only inspiring to me as a child, but our whole community as Black men, and I think this connective tissue of fatherhood and running is what really has inspired me to start my running journey, honestly.
ESSENCE: Can you elaborate on the feeling of running helping to connect you with a community as Black men?
It’s been statistically proven that Black men and Black people as a whole are not actively running as much as other demographics, especially long distances and marathons. I think there are around 3% of Black people that are running, and less than 1% who are running marathons. So, seeing my Grandpa, and then recently my Dad running the marathon reinforced that there is an opportunity for change, there’s an opportunity to tell a story about health and wellness in the Black community.
ESSENCE: Why do you think it’s so important for people to hear this story about your family, and what impact do you hope to have on others?
I think I represent a demographic and younger generation that is looking to make change in the aspect of running, let alone changing all of the societal strife that might be going on in the world. The ability to get out there and run is impactful because not only do I want to inspire people that look like me, but also people that don’t look like me as well. Living in Harlem and being able to run through the streets of Harlem and feel the support of the local Harlemites and residents encourages me to think that there is a shift in the world of running. Knowing that running can be a form of both physical and mental therapy is really a story that should be told.
It starts with just being proud that I’m running a marathon, it’s become almost a personality trait, and something that I lead with in conversation. I’m super excited to share that I’m running the marathon, and beyond the fact that I’m trying to become a third-generation marathoner, this is a bigger and overarching message that it’s cool to run. There are other sports that have high barriers to entry, but with running, you just need a pair of shoes to get out there, and running is essentially free for almost everyone, right?
It almost felt like I needed my dad to run it first, before it was my turn, so it was like he was passing baton the to me and saying, “you can do this too.”
ESSENCE: How is running therapeutic for you?
Just getting out there, it’s you, your mind, and your body. Trying to find that interconnection between all of them creates this euphoric feeling, and it allows me personally to forget about how hard my workday was, or anything else that’s going on in the world, and become one with this experience of running, and also knowing in a more literal sense that it’s good for my body. Speaking specifically to the African American community, this belief and this idea of health and wellness needs to be supported and pushed within our community, especially considering that there are so many things stacked against us as far as helping our community be as healthy as possible.
ESSENCE: What took you so long to jump into the marathon lifestyle?
I grew up playing fast twitch sports, like basketball and football, baseball, soccer. But seeing my dad run the marathon a few years ago made me feel like I could do it as well and continue the tradition and be the third generation to accomplish it. It almost felt like I needed my dad to run it first, before it was my turn, so it was like he was passing baton the to me and saying, “you can do this too.”
ESSENCE: This is your first marathon—are you nervous or apprehensive about anything going into the race?
No, I’m not nervous. Running doesn’t always have to be a competition, and because I work in advertising at a very demanding job, and I’m also an entrepreneur and own a lifestyle brand, so for me, it’s about finishing and being proud that I got out there and was able to accomplish it. I’ve put in the effort to train to the best of my ability. I’m just really excited to get out there and feel the energy of New York. I think the New York City Marathon is by far the best marathon there is and that’s because of the representation of the city, from the diversity to everyone coming out and the city closing down on a Sunday to cheer on the over 50,000 runners.
I’ve been a spectator before, and I’ve volunteered at one, so actually being a part of it now as a runner is something that I probably will never forget. My dad is running this year, and I’m running with my girlfriend who’s running her first marathon as well, on top of the fact that my Grandpa is also expected to be there. We couldn’t get him in the race this year, but it will still be really cool at the end at the finish line, having all three of us there celebrating, and sharing that moment together.
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