I raced there this weekend and had a blast. It is a very challenging course and I competed in the mixed category with Jenny Ledford. We ended up 9th overall, but 3 other mixed teams were ahead of us. I think they beat us mostly in the water, and with 4 miles of swimming there was plenty of it. :-)
With all that running many folks opt to swim with paddles and buoys because they have to swim with shoes and do not want to kick. But others swim without paddles or without buoys or with neither as it suits them better. Some folks have tested and found they swim faster without, and that makes transitions faster too. But most folks swim faster with and have less tired legs for the runs.