My "coach," aka the author of the plan I'm following, makes it a point to state that swimming is a technique sport, much like golf. This always makes me feel better because I know that I have the endurance but my technique is lacking. The good thing about a technique sport is that you can improve rapidly with practice and drills. The drills will begin this fall. For now I'm just swimming, swimming, swimming. Might join a team later on so I can have some help with my stroke. One difference between swimming and swimming in a tri is that you try to use your legs much less when swimming in a tri. So, you do almost all the work with your arms to save your legs for later on.
This is definitely my worst sport of the three. IM CDA is a mass start, which means that all 2500+ athletes start at the exact same time. I've heard it described as a washing machine and you should expect to receive some kicks to the face and elbows to the ears. It's pretty much my worst nightmare. I literally stay awake at night thinking about it.
Three years ago, I finished a Half-Ironman that had a large wave start in the Russian River. There were only a couple hundred people starting in each wave and that was overwhelming to me. All I remember was people swimming into me, on top of me and under me. Seriously, I had a real-life panic attack and, as you all know, pretty much nothing fazes me. Except open water mass start swims and snakes. Both scary. But, to get over this fear of open-water swims and to prepare myself as much as possible for the washing machine IM CDA start, I'm going to practice, practice, practice. In the pool, in open water, anywhere. Everywhere. Nothing is going to help with the snake fear, so I'm just going to continue to scream every time I see one...even if it's dead, especially if it's fat or has an open mouth.
length: one length of the pool
lap: down and back (2 lengths)
freestyle: aka crawl, what most triathletes do during the swim portion.