Natalie Mooney Lang swam 21 miles across the English Channel on Monday, leaving Dover, England at 6:30 a.m. and arriving in France 12 hours and 6 minutes later.
“There was no guarantee that I’d make it or how good the weather would be, so to get there and have made it was indescribable,” Lang said.
Lang has completed other big open-water swims, including the 21-mile Catalina Channel to California last year. The English Channel, however, is known for its cold and choppy water. Many swimmers who attempted the feat failed, and 10 have died. Lang, however, didn’t read much into other people’s performances when she signed up for the challenge three years ago.
“I didn’t want to know how many had failed,” she said. “I wanted to compartmentalize it and focus on myself.”
In addition to swimming five days a week, Lang did a nine-day training camp in Ireland to get used to the cold, open water.
“That water was really cold and really good preparation,” she said.
When she got the call to swim the English Channel, they gave her a nine-day weather window, and she had to be ready to swim the channel on any of the days.
“Mentally and emotionally, this one was more taxing (than the Catalina Channel),” she said.
She said the Catalina swim, however, was scarier since she did it in the dark, when the water was calmer, beginning at 10 p.m.
When she arrived at the beach in Dover on Monday morning to swim the English Channel, however, everything kind of lined up for.
“It was a beautiful start with the sunrise and the sea was totally still,” she said. “It all stopped for me and this endeavor. It was energizing because I had worked for years for this.”
Lang, however, did experience a little trouble on the swim. Before the halfway point, a jelly fish wrapped itself around her left leg and stung her.
“All of a sudden, my leg was burning,” she said. “Sometimes you can see them and dodge them, but I didn’t see it.”
Lang said she spun around to kick the jelly fish off her leg. She described the sting as “a moderate level of pain,” but said it actually helped her ignore that her shoulder was also hurting.
“I got a wicked jellyfish sting, but it was nice because the pain distracted me,” she said. “It was a nice pain because it occupied my mind.”
Beyond the jelly fish attack, the swim went pretty smooth for her and she was able to swim pretty straight. It also took her an hour and seven minutes less than the Catalina Channel, even though the English Channel is considered more challenging.
The weather helped. She also had a strong plan to consume calories, drinking two Nalgene bottles containing supplements every 45 minutes, while never stopping.
“You want to get it down in 30 seconds or the currents would carry you,” she said. “I rolled on my back and drank while I kicked because I didn’t want to lose any ground.”
Because of the currents, some people swim 25 to 30 miles to cross the channel.
Lang’s swim was about 21 miles.
“I had a really good swim; I swam pretty straight,” she said.
Her crew also put on personalized T-shirts with her face on them, and wore berets when they entered French water, to keep her spirits high.
And when she arrived in France, and saw her time, she said she was ecstatic.
“It felt surreal and amazing on that beach,” she said. “I was prepared for the worse, and I was thinking it would take 13 to 14 hours, so 12:06 was huge for me. … It’s amazing to finish because so many don’t.”
A bout with COVID this summer put her English Channel swim in jeopardy, she said. In mid-July, after she had COVID, she did a 16-mile swim in Vermont, but it took her two hours longer than she expected. “I felt defeated because it was so hard, but in retrospect it was really good training because I did push through,” Lang said.
Lang was also inducted into the Vermont Open Water Swimming Hall of Fame in its 2022 class as a marathon swimmer. Lang grew up in Durango and graduated from Durango High School in 1995, but lives in the Boston area and began open-water swimming in Vermont.
“I feel like I grew up as an open-water swimmer in Vermont, so to get recognized by them was really special,” she said.
Her coach for the past five years, Charlotte Brynn, is also in Vermont and many of Lang’s milestone swims, including her first big, 25-mile swim, have also taken place in Vermont.
The Catalina and English Channel swims are part of the triple crown, along with the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim. Lang, however, said she isn’t sure that she’ll attempt the Manhattan. “I’m not as drawn to urban swimming,” she said. “I love choppy, open oceans in the middle of nowhere; I love the moments when you’re just a tiny, insignificant person in a huge well of water.”
Instead, she said she next plan is to swim an “ice mile,” swimming a mile in water 41 degrees or colder.