(Greetings from 38,000 feet above a red state)
"So," you ask. "What's the difference between RAAM and RAW?"
The answer, grasshopper, is obvious. And yet, not so much.
Obviously, there's the distance. But it goes so far beyond that. Because RAW is less than 900 miles, the tactics Rob will use, his mindset at the outset, his sleep patterns - everything will be different.
Every RAAM racer (especially veterans who know what happens east of the Mississippi) who is being completely honest will tell you that at the starting line, he is thinking about what happens in a week, when the body is ravaged by heat, wind, rain, sun, sleep deprivation, nutritional issues, whatever. It messes with their heads. It's a constant source of concern from the first pedal stroke to the last, wherever in the country that might be.
Put plainly: RAAM is as much about managing sleep deprivation and the breakdown of the body as it is about riding a bike fast. Sleep too much, you fall behind. Sleep too little, you lose your mind.
Almost none of that applies in RAW. Yes, 860 miles is a long way to go and no, I don't think ANY riders, including Rob, will do it without any sleep. But the required sleep is so much less. And the racer does not need to worry about how lack of sleep in Arizona will come back to haunt him in West Virginia.
So RAW is much more about racing. In a way it's more "pure" than RAAM. It really is about the bike and the rider's physical ability and less about how much sleep can you skip without going batsh*t crazy.
I've seen Rob race in 12-hour, 24-hour, 500 mile, 540 mile races and at the end of every one of them he is riding faster than most people (and I mean people who race bikes) can when they are fresh.
So the real difference between RAAM and RAW is that RAAM is a war of a attrition, a death march.
RAW is a race where speed and climbing ability is paramount. Both work to Rob's advantage.