So how did I do? I have to admit that I started the swim leg of the race uptight. I was worried about the distance, about the current, and about the waves. I was also frazzled because I had never done an open water swim before in a race. It took me a while before I could relax to the point where I would exhale as soon as my face re-entered the water. My tendency was to look up to see where I was. But when I discovered that I could reliably follow the more experienced swimmers for direction control, I could relax. Finally, once I found my rhythm it was smooth sailing for the most part. I had heard that you should count from 1 to 10 repeatedly while swimming. I did this mental trick and it worked wonders. As long as I could keep counting to 10 I knew I would be okay. I didn't need to kick exceptionally hard because of the buoyancy of the salt water. I just remained focused on my breathing, taking consistent deep breaths in and out. 1 to 10. 1 to 10. 1 to 10.
One thing that helped me greatly was the presence of lifeguards on paddle boards along the course. Occasionally one would ask me how I was doing. Just knowing that help was nearby if needed was an incredible confidence booster. In the end, I simply concentrated on three things: A calm spirit, a regular inhaling and exhaling pattern, and a relaxed stroke. Pace didn't matter since I wasn't in the race to compete.
Swimming in the ocean is so NOT like swimming in a pool. I am told it gets easier with experience. I hope so.