5. Goggles Are Critical
Find a pair that you are comfortable with and allow you to see very well. Don't wait until race day to try your new pair of goggles out!
6. Learn the Course
You may not always have someone with you during the race. Before the race, check the buoys. Look for landmarks, like trees or houses, that will help guide you in a straight line. While you are in the water, you won't always be able to sight off the buoys.
7. Have a Fast Start
Be warmed up and prepared to go hard from the beginning. You want to limit as much contact as possible on the start, so get out fast. You can settle into your pace after that.
8. Learn to Breathe on Both Sides
I have found out the hard way that it is best to breathe to the opposite side when someone is next to you. If not, you might get hit in the face, and/or lose your goggles. It is much worse than a hit in the back of the head.
9. Draft When You Can
Drafting is a part of open water swimming. It can help you sometimes and hurt you others. You may be able to hang on to a faster group of swimmers, but you may also get stuck behind some and not know how slow you are going. Use it with caution. I would recommend using it more for triathletes, who should be finding ways to save their legs for the bike and run.
10. Eat and Hydrate Well
Take care of your body. It is easy to get dehydrated out in the open water. Drink plenty of fluids two days out, but don't get bloated.
The points Flanagan makes are valid and useful. The sport of open water swimming has grown in leaps and bounds over the course of the last few years, and Flanagan has been at the forefront of his events ever since.
He's a pro who has been doing it so long that he even has advice for those worried about those all-too-rare shark encounters.
"A couple times I've run into sharks," Flanagan says, apparently having survived to tell the tale.
"Once swimming in Australia, and once out surfing in Hawaii. For the most part, sharks tend to keep to themselves. They're really nothing to worry about.
"I have also run into eight dolphins during a race," he says. "I was shocked because it was so unreal, and I couldn't move for a while; dolphins look a lot like sharks! But if you mind your own business, they're sure to stay away from you. Remember that they're probably more scared of you than you are of them."
A former swimmer at Stanford University, Alex Kostich has stayed strong in the sport at the elite level even while maintaining a day job. The three-time Pan-American Games gold medalist still competes in—and wins—numerous open-water races around the world each year, as well as competing in the occasional triathlon and running race.