ON the start line of the 1993 Reebok Everest Marathon it was unusually warm - about five degrees below zero, which at 17,000 feet at 7am on a Nepalese November morning, can only be described as comfortable. With 75 shivering runners from 12 countries waiting to start, the favourites took their places at the front. There by right were the seven strong team from the Hong Kong-based Gurkha Brigade, looking coldly determined. In the words of their senior officer, Lieutenant Charles Moores: ''We have lived, breathed and slept this race for the past two months. We are not here to come second.'' History suggested that was a bold prediction. This was the fourth Everest Marathon and in every race the Gurkha team had placed second; in the first race by an agonising 35 seconds, in the second beaten only by a record time of 3.59.04, and in 1991 placing second, third and fourth. His team, six of whom are currently based in Hong Kong, had prepared meticulously. Moores, Warrant Officer Kevin Davies and Sergeant Fergus Anderson from the Kathmandu-based Queen's Gurkha Signals made up the British contingent. But the real hope lay with the Nepalese runners. Sergeant Gyan Bahadur Limbu Guman Thapa, Birbahadur Balal and Dharmabikram Sunwar are all experienced race runners and veterans of the MacLehose Trailwalker Challenge. They set out for Nepal on October 7, meeting as a team for the first time in the pagoda roofed capital of Kathmandu and headed for the hills of the Annapurna region for pre-race training and acclimatisation. Moores described their preparation. ''We spent 20 days trekking, carrying 50lb packs to build stamina and concentrating on all round fitness. We quickly moulded together as a team and then camped below the ice covered, 17,500ft Thorung La pass, running 6,000ft up to it and back down to camp every other day.'' ''We changed the training from that of previous teams, concentrating more on distance and stamina, including hard circuit training, because always in the past we've lost the race towards the end,'' said Davis. ''Our aim is simple, get to the start in good health and win.'' The competition came from the United States, Europe, New Zealand and Japan, ranging in age from 23-year-old Toshio Mishima of Japan to 65-year-old Eckart Lemberg from Colorado, US. Lemberg, already the oldest runner ever to win a medal in the race, afterrunning in 1989 at the age of 61, had come back to improve his time. The setting is the most spectacular of any marathon course, with the newly rebuilt Tengboche Monastery at the half-way mark, and the towering ice falls and glaciers of the world's highest peaks all about. But the track is rough, and at the 17,000ft mark the runners were gasping air containing only 50 per cent of the oxygen they normally breathe at sea level. Failure to acclimatise can be fatal and the group was accompanied by 10 doctors, who would be posted every few kilometres along the course on race day, each with an oxygen supply and stretcher. The race test the limit of human endurance, and no one is guaranteed even reaching the start. Most competitors had headaches and were breathless. The first sign of more serious illness and any runner could be sent back down. This happened to only one, Kathy Crilley of London, who was carried down the Khumbu Glacier on a stretcher. Everyone else made the start, a dusty hollow beside the mighty Khumbu Glacier, and directly below Everest. The main opposition to the Gurkhas was the defending champion, Swiss runner Pierre-Andre Gobet, who looked in good form. Other favourites were Russell Prince of New Zealand a former world multi-sport champion and Sheldon Larson, a top trailrunner from the US. In the event, it was Gobet who led from the start, picking a way across the boulder fields, pursued by veteran runner Ray Brown, a New Zealander who lives in Perth, Australia, then the Gurkhas. Gobet was never to lose his lead, and once again there was to be no Gurkha victory. As the runners left the glacier and descended to better trails and more oxygen rich altitudes the leader pulled away. Brown twisted his ankle but stayed in contention despite several falls which bloodied his knees. He praised the Gurkha's sporting nature saying, ''Whenever I fell they looked to check I was okay.'' Passing the magnificent pinnacles of Mount Ama Dablam and approaching the half-way mark of the Tengboche Monastery, Gobet led by nine minutes from the Nepalese Olympic marathon runner Hari Rokaya, closely followed by Birbahdur Balal, the first of the Gurkhas, then Brown and two more Gurkhas. All was not lost as the second half of the race features a 1,000ft climb and a punishing finish, but it was the Gurkha team which faded not the opposition. Gobet ran into Mache Bazaar to the applause of gathered trekkers, Tibetans and Sherpas, winning in 4.03.29 from Rokaya, the surprise package of the race, and then 42-year-old Brown, who smashed the veterans record by the 33 minutes with his time of 4.28.38. The Nepalese Gurkhas were led home by Gyan Bahadur Limbu in fourth. His team mates made fifth, sixth and 11th, with Davies 9th, Anderson 17th and Moores 23rd. All seven in the top 23 in an international race was an impressive performance. ''It was a good team performance, which I have to be pleased with,'' said Moores. However, there was no hiding their disappointment as once again the Gurkhas' quest for an Everest Marathon victory will have to wait another two years for the next race.