To stop goggles getting knocked off, put them underneath your swim cap. This way, even if they are knocked, they won’t be lost and you can put them back in place.
To prevent goggles from steaming up in a race, either use relatively new ones with a good anti-fog coating or apply some new anti-fog spray before the event.
To reduce the likelihood of goggles leaking, make sure you’ve used them consistently in training before the race. If a race-day leak is affecting your vision, pull over to one side and tread water for a few seconds to empty and re-seal them. A few seconds lost doing this will be worth it if it’s early on in the swim.
In very cold water, you can either wear a neoprene hood or two swim caps to stop your head getting too cold. Make sure that your hat is pulled down your forehead to reduce direct exposure to the water.
The main issue with very cold water is the effect it has on your breathing. As you put your face into it, your natural reflex is to hold your breath. Splash cold water onto your face to help acclimatisation, then forcefully exhale with your face in the water.
Sometimes the cold water, low visibility and thrashing of swimmers nearby can induce mild panic if you’re not used to open-water swimming. Breathing is the key to controlling this, in particular exhaling forcefully under the water. If you’re really struggling, swim breaststroke or front crawl with your head up for a few metres to calm yourself down.
Of course, you can reduce the chances of being caught up in the mêlée of a frantic start by sitting off to one side or towards the back of the field.
Going the wrong way – or swimming a lot further than you need to – is a common mistake for novice open-water athletes. Make sure you are 100% confident of the swim course layout before entering the water. Once in the water, line up landmarks on the bank or shore with swim buoys and align yourself with those in case the buoys are hard to see from water level. Don’t just follow the feet of the swimming in front blindly – and do look up from time to time!
Unless you’re planning to be one of the first out of the water, there’s no need to start flat-out. Begin at a brisk but comfortable pace and you’ll have the energy to get faster as you go on, rather than dying a painful death as oxygen debt catches up with you after the first few minutes.