I started training for triathlons 3 years ago and have completed one Olympic distance race each year (in addition to 2-3 half-Marathons per year). I train year-round because it helps me stay in shape. I don't train for races and I mainly compete against myself, but doing a race helps me push my limits. I spend most of my training time with running because it gives me the best workout and I can do it in the winter, but I do enjoy riding and open-water swimming as soon as I can get out. I am in the pond from late April through late October. I am having knee trouble right now and stopped running. As a result, I swim more than in previous years and I pay more attention to how I am doing in the water.
When I began with triathlon training at the age of 48, I initially struggled with finding a freestyle rhythm. I kept switching back to breast stroke. My breathing technique improved quickly, though, and I can now do 2400 meter freestyle swims in open water comfortably without stopping because I have to catch my breath or I swallowed water.
I usually start with a 3-2-3-2 breathing pattern but can sustain a 3-3 pattern as well if I pace myself a little. I can switch between patterns as needed. I pay attention to my form, try to be streamlined, stretch my arm forward, pull back strongly all the way, minimize body roll, look down and keep my neck relaxed. I really feel comfortable in the water at all times. I have books about swimming techniques for triathletes and I seem to be doing everything they say.
But - no matter what I try, I can't swim faster than about 2:30/100m, which appears fast to me but is abysmally slow in comparison and puts me into the bottom 5% in the swim in every race. My biking and running is more middle-of-the-road, so this is not a general physical limitation of my body. Clearly, I must be doing something wrong in the water.
Based on other forum posts, it appears that most people who start out swimming struggle with breathing or fear or other "minor" barriers. Once they overcome this, they can swim a competitive pace. In my case, I don't experience the typical beginner's problems. I am just slow, and I can't find much direct advice that would help me figure out why.
I realize that I could take lessons, do laps in a controlled environment (pool), etc. I am concerned that I will end up spending time and money on a trainer and pool lessons that may not help me because I am swimming already at the ceiling of my abilities. I am not ready for this. On the other hand, I am so much slower than where I think I should be (at least 20% to 30%) that there must be an obvious cause. I am not just looking to fine-tune my form.
What should I do?