A - Hey pal Hal, here's the deal. Efficiency (or Economy) as applied to the world of runners pertains to the amount of oxygen the runner utilizes while running at a given speed. It is determined in the lab with runners running on treadmills and, rarely in the field, with runners connected to apparatus carried along in a vehicle while the runner runs around a track - good drivers need only apply.
It is an issue of interest because it varies between runners, so two runners running at 8:00 min per mile pace and having the same Maximum Oxygen Intake (VO2max), or aerobic fitness, might utilize different amounts of oxygen, and so be running at different percentages of their respective VO2max The one using less oxygen is said to be more efficient or economic. One reason for the variance can running form, i.e., the manner in which the person runs; however there's also a cellular component as well. As far as improving efficiency, apart from insuring good running form, there are indications from investigations that faster running (intervals) and weight training may have some impact.
A good example as to the potential significance of efficiency is provided by Frank Shorter who won the 1972 Olympic Marathon for the U.S. A lab investigation on Shorter revealed that he had a VO2max of about 70 ml/kg/min. which is lower than most elite runners who have values closer to 80; however, measurements also revealed that Shorter didn't require as much oxygen for a given running speed as most.